Thursday, 31 January 2008

O Arabia Felix!

I've just returned from ten days in the Gulf, feeling jet-lagged from the night flight but also incredibly humbled and encouraged by the situation over there. Just to remind you: the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia looks after the Catholics of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen. There are at least 2 million Catholics out there, half of whom are in the 'Forbidden Kingdom' of Saudi Arabia (where the Church is allowed no official activity). Relative religious freedom within a well-defined framework exists in all the other countries but there is a huge problem of adequate provision - 16 parishes and 55 priests to serve 2 million souls! That was the reason, I suppose, why I encountered such warm hospitality this last week.

Due to the delicate political situation, I have to be careful about the details I provide here. I spoke at a conference for those involved in catechesis and teaching. If such a meeting was held in England, you'd be lucky to get 100, but in the Gulf over 600 people attended the three day event. The atmosphere was electric - especially when, at the beginning of the conference, representatives from each community brought flags to the front of the hall (and I say 'community' since not all of them have access to a church).

One of the other speakers at the conference was Dr Petroc Willey, EWTN presenter and Deputy-Director of the amazing Maryvale Institute (which deserves to be better known). It was great to get to know him and help him celebrate his birthday last weekend. The Vicariate of Arabia uses the Echoes programme and some catechists are working for the Maryvale Certificate in Catechesis (MCC). Petroc also edits The Sower, which I've just subscribed to - I know of no other catechetical resource that is so reliable, well-produced and full of practical points. I recommend it to all priests, catechists and parishes!

On Tuesday night I did some work with the Abu Dhabi Young Adults Group. We reflected on the theme of vocation together and then went out to enjoy the nightime treat of Moroccan Tea and sheesha by the sea! Hmmm, I must do that with my parish's young adults group. One thing that came across from our conversation was that the biggest threat to the Faith out there is not so much fundamentalism but the increasingly materialist outlook of society, especially in places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The UK and UAE are perhaps not that dissimilar!

A few more posts and pictures to follow, especially when I get back to the parish at the weekend...


Sunday, 20 January 2008

Back to the Gulf!

Some of you may recall that I was in UAE in August 2007, conducting a retreat for a group of Carmelite sisters. Anyway, I'm going back to the Gulf for ten days to help the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia with their annual 'Christian Formation Conference.' In particular, I'll be giving some talks on the 1997 General Directory of Catechesis. I think there are two other 'keynote speakers,' one of whom is coming from the wonderful Maryvale Institute, near Birmingham.

I may be able to post while out there. But, in case I don't find a connection and to give you some idea of the 'particular Church' in the Arabian Penninsula, take a look at this interesting video:

And prayers please for a safe journey and stay!


Saturday, 19 January 2008

St Wulfstan of Worcester

It’s always good to celebrate the English saints and today we remember one who is included in the new English Calendar, although he is perhaps not very well known - St Wulfstan of Worcester. Born in Warwickshire around 1008, he joined the Benedictine monastery at Worcester and eventually became Prior. He was well-known for his holiness and asceticism. On one occasion, he was celebrating Mass and was so distracted by the smell of a tasty goose that was being cooked for dinner, that he decided there and then to give up meat and become a vegetarian.

In 1062 he became bishop of Worcester. Four years later the Normans conquered England and St Wulfstan was the only Saxon bishop allowed to remain in office, partly because King William preferred monastic bishops and partly because of his much-admired pastoral care of his flock. One legend relates that the Archbishop of Canterbury doubted his ability and asked St Wulfstan to resign. On hearing this, he rammed his crozier into the stone of the tomb of St Edward the Confessor, the last Saxon King. Rather like King Arthur’s Excalibur, no one could pull it out but St Wulfstan, which was seen as Divine confirmation of his office.

Bishop Wulfstan made Worcester a centre of liturgy and chant, and re-built the Cathedral. There is a rather touching story of the saint shedding tears at the destruction of the old Cathedral, which was the work of saints who knew not how to build fine churches but knew how to sacrifice themselves to God, whatever roof might be over them. Rather remarkably, St Wulfstan preached against the trade of Irish slaves in nearby Bristol and actually managed to stop it.

St Wulfstan died in January of 1095 - according to one tradition he passed away while washing the feet of a dozen poor men, which was his daily custom. Miracles were soon attributed to his intercession, including the healing of King Harold's daughter, and he was canonised by Innocent III in 1203. ‘Bad King John’ had a great devotion to the saint and was buried near his shrine at Worcester.


Sunday, 13 January 2008


I'm just preparing for the young adults group that meets this evening. Tonight we will be following the Pope's instructions and discussing some key passages from Spe Salvi. While reflecting on hope, I was delighted to see the pictures of this morning's Mass in the Sistine Chapel at which the Holy Father celebrated ad orientem. It's good to see the seventh candle again too (behind the crucifix)! (Photo courtesy of NLM)

The Pope once again demonstrates his pedagogy of leading quietly by example. Today's Mass will help take the stigma out of Mass ad orientem, show that it is a key part of the hermeneutic of continuity and destroy the myth of the bad old days when priests turned their backs to the people and privatized the liturgy. In the pictures it just looks so right! Fr Ray Blake has an excellent reflection on liturgical orientation, in which he speaks of the huge impact of today's Mass because 'for most people it is not what they hear that is important but what they see.'

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Sunday, 6 January 2008

Catholic Anniversaries in 2008

Cardinal Pole - who died 450 years ago

Here are some anniversaries of Catholic interest that we will be keeping this year. There are probably many others I haven't mentioned:

26 January 900th Anniversary of the death of St Alberic, one of the Cistercian Founders
6 February 1750th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Pope St Sixtus II
11 February 150th Anniversary of the First Apparition at Lourdes
21 March 400th Anniversary of the martyrdom of the priest Bl Matthew Flathers at York
11 April 400th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Bl George Gervase, OSB at Tyburn
3 May 250th Anniversary of the death of Pope Benedict XIV
27 May 1700th Anniversary of the election of Pope St Marcellus I
23 June 400th Anniversary of the martyrdom of St Thomas Garnet, SJ at Tyburn
6 July 25oth Anniversary of the election of Pope Clement XIII
15 July 20oth Anniversary of the birth of Henry Edward Cardinal Manning
9 September 100th Anniversary of the opening of the International Eucharistic Congress in London (it continued until 13 September)
24 September 1150th Anniversary of the election of Pope St Nicholas the Great
3 October 550th Anniversary of the birth of St Casimir of Poland
5 October 350th Anniversary of the birth of Mary of Modena (our last Catholic Queen)
9 October 50th Anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII
28 October 50th Anniversary of the election of Bl John XXIII
8 November 700th Anniversary of the death of Bl Duns Scotus
17 November 45oth Anniversary of the deaths of Queen Mary I and Reginald Cardinal Pole


Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente

Buona festa!

As I was doing my morning ablutions, I listened with interest to BBC Radio 4's Sunday Worship. The programme is normally a bit of a mixed bag, and can leave one feeling rather dry, but this week there is a meditation on Science and Religion from the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, led by James Hanvey SJ and Guy Consolmagno SJ. There are some interesting points made, as well as intriguing references to the pope's collection of meteorites! For the time being, you can listen to it by following this link.

I missed part of it since I had to get ready for Mass. I'd never thought before of preaching an Epiphany Sermon on fides et ratio but it seems so obvious - I must remember that for next year!


Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

I'm now back in the parish, having spent a few days at home doing absolutely nothing. In the absence of the parish priest, it was my task to celebrate last night's Midnight Mass (for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God). When I first came across these New Year Midnight Masses, I was rather dubious since they seemed to have no precedent in tradition and I wasn't sure whether they were officially approved. However, more and more parishes organise them and they are particularly popular with the African and West Indian communities.

Following on from last night, I think that organising some sort of religious service for New Year's Eve is an excellent idea since it effectively Christianizes a very secular celebration and provides a viable alternative to getting drunk or watching ridiculous TV shows like 'The Most Annoying People of 2007.' What better way is there to start the new calendar year than by adoring the Blessed Sacrament or attending Mass?

About 500 people came last night (which far exceeded my expectations). We started with half an hour's adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. At the moment of Midnight (more or less) Benediction was given, surrounded by bells (inside the church) and fireworks (outside). I then exchanged my cope for a gold chasuble and Mass began. We sang the Veni Creator, which is customary for the New Year and is also indulgenced. Another time it would be good to sing the Te Deum in the last moments of the old year, which is an indulgenced devotion for 31 December.

The Catholic papers recently had a report about the many (mostly urban) parishes that move the Christmas Midnight Mass to an earlier time due to security concerns (both for church and pasrishioners). I sympathise with them. However, living in a parish that straddles, according to a 2007 survey, two of the most 'undesirable' London Boroughs (Islington and Hackney), I'm delighted to report that there was absolutely no trouble at either of the Midnight Masses we've had this last week. And fears of security did not put off the 500 faithful who chose to attend each of them.

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