Thursday, 25 November 2010

Catholic Parliamentary Interns Retreat

Danny Howard reports on the retreat to Drumalis

On a dreary November morning we left behind the frenzied months of work we have undergone in the capital for our much anticipated (and much needed) retreat. A short flight over the Irish Sea took us to Drumalis; a religious retreat centre overlooking Larne on the County Antrim coast.

The crisp country air, with its splendid view of the pale winter morning was a welcome transformation from the pollution and dreariness we have grown accustomed to in London. The aesthetic beauty of Drumalis was coupled with dedicated service from the wonderful staff. Alongside their faithful dog - Scotty - Sisters of the Cross and Passion; Sr Anna and Sr Margaret Rose, led a small but devoted team who catered to every need and ensured our short stay was a happy one.

The purpose of the retreat was to take a step back from our busy weekly schedules, and to observe and reflect what we have experienced, and how by strengthening and deepening our faith, we might prepare ourselves for the future.

Directing this core spiritual element of the retreat was Father James Hanvey SJ, who we have been fortunate enough to have had guiding us these past few months. The essence of this retreat was one of reflection and development; of how we converse with God and how we might strengthen this bond through the ever deeper use of scripture and prayer.

This enrichment took a number of forms throughout the three days, including the study of scripture, regular conversations with Father James, group meetings and the use of prayer. Furthermore, Sr Anna was kind enough to guide us through the extensive collection of religious art within Drumalis. As evening drew in we would retire to the beautiful oratory to celebrate mass and observe the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We also enjoyed long walks along the beautiful coast line.

As the third day drew to a close, we all observed how enlightening and rejuvenating the retreat had been. Though sad to leave the tranquillity of Drumalis and the company of those who had joined us, we travelled back to London fully refreshed, confident in our Catholic faith and ready to take on the rest of what this year may bring.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Theos annual lecture 2010: Ex-police commissioner says we must all "doubt" our faith

Myself and Naomi attended the Annual Theos Lecture - this year delivered by Lord Blair. It provided an interesting talk, despite the fact I disagreed with his main point that we cannot have a true faith - that there must be doubt. Alternatively I would have argued that we cannot have faith without enquiry, questioning it in its application to our lives - though his points on social cohesion were spot on and publicising religion's good works more to bring religion back into a positive light. Below I have written up a report covering most of his points/topics that may be of interest.

Ex-police commissioner says we must all "doubt" our faith

Lord Blair, ex police commissioner who led the police service during the 2005 July bombings, delivered the Theos Annual Lecture last night. In his personal testimony, entitled ‘Religion and Public Order’, Lord Blair highlighted the pitfalls of religion as a source of intolerance and violence in society but said he believed that religion was “simple” and a “force for good”.

Lord Blair said: "All religions have, as their core belief, the need for love, for respect for others, for tolerance….The greatest achievements and ambitions of human social history, such as the abolition of slavery and the provision of universal education or free health care for all have had their origins in religious impulse."

"Religion should be the most peaceful of all the agencies of social cohesion," he said.

Good acts

"Its infinite number of unseen and unsung acts of charity and love are not known individually but in total they are part of public consciousness.

"They should be and remain the glue that permits modern society to exist, particularly in an increasingly urbanised age - in other words, they are a bulwark of public order, in the sense of orderliness and tranquility."

A religious babel

He admitted: "This is not the image of religion in this past century or this past decade."

Adding he was confused by how this had happened: “I wonder how we got to here, this religious version of Babel.”Lord Blair, a practicing Anglican, spoke of his own faith journey saying he “wrestles” with his own faith and citing the Acts of the Apostles as the reason he believed the Bible was true.

However, he shared his confusion over the “obsession” with the ordination of women clergy in the Anglican Church and why it was “tearing itself apart” over homosexuality”, he also said he did not understand the Catholic Church’s need for priestly celibacy, and the Muslim arguments over Mohammed’s successor.

Old-fashioned and violent

He continued: "The horrors of clerical child abuse and the arguments over homosexuality ... are obscuring the basic decency that comes from the commandments to peace contained in all religions, a commandment which in the Christian church, for instance, requires each member of a congregation at every service to greet his or her neighbours with the words 'Peace be with you.'"Lord Blair argued that to most people faith looks "irrelevant, clannish, prejudiced, old-fashioned and violent".

He stressed the importance of doubt in religious belief: "Doubt is part of the mortar of a building faith," he said.

Doubt in faith

"Unless your faith has been tested by doubt, it is not faith but just an attitude, a retreat from the modern world.

"Doubt in the very nature of faith can surely be a useful companion to a necessary lack of shrill conviction that our own faith is more valuable than that of another."

Lord Blair suggested that to move forward that people of all faiths should move "beyond arguments between and within different religions and recover their confidence in the beneficial nature of religion per se."Concluding the lecture, he said "We should be aware of the horrors which organised religions have inflicted on the world, we should respect the views of others without faith but be unapologetically confident that, now, in our society, the religious impulse provides goodness in a manner unequalled by any other aspect of our communal life."


Lord Blair was made a cross-bench life peer in Gordon Brown's Dissolution Honours List earlier this year. He previously held the top policing job in the country from 2004 until his resignation in 2008. Five months into the role the London bombings of 7 July took place.John Humphrys, writer and broadcaster and star of Mastermind chaired the talk. The lecture was held at One Birdcage Walk, it was well attended with notable attendance by MPs, peers, academics, business people and religious leaders.

Monday, 15 November 2010

CAFOD's annual lecture

On Friday 12 November, Andrew, Nick, Danny and Naomi attended Cafod’s annual lecture which took place at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster.

The lecture, an annual event for Cafod’s supporters and staff, is inspired by the late Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical letter, Populorum Progressio, published in 1967, in which the Pope urged people to work for a better world through an active spirit and the practice of global solidarity.

The lecture, entitled Life to the full? Development in solidarity was given by the General Secretary of Pax Christi and former Prime Minister of Haiti, Claudette Werleigh.

In January, a devastating earthquake forced Haiti into the international spotlight. In her lecture, former Haitian Prime Minister Claudette Werleigh explored the deeper issues behind the headlines when she discussed how true development, based on peace and justice, can enable all to live life to the full.

About 400 supporters attended the event, including Bishop John Rawsthorne, Bishop of Hallam and Chair of CAFOD, Bishop Patrick Lynch, Auxiliary Bishop in Southwark, and Bishop William Kenney, Auxiliary in Birmingham. The evening was chaired by Channel Four news presenter Jon Snow. Reflecting on her recent visits to Haiti, Werleigh spoke of the need for NGOs to work in partnership with local institutions, empowering the people of Haiti to participate through Consultation, in the decisions that determine the country’s recovery and development. Demonstrating trust, Werleigh says, plays an important part in recognising the dignity of others, and is a key factor in the international development process. Greater consultation will allow a more sustainable, deeply rooted process of recovery.

She draws on rich experience: “I have been blessed to have worked both in rich countries and one of the most impoverished ones, at grassroots level and at top level. I have learned that we all need to acknowledge our differences, to accept the other as equal and to cooperate in order to improve life.”

Naomi Brandon
Public Affairs Intern at CESEW