Friday, 23 December 2011

Festive Fun

As Christmas is upon us and (most of) the interns have finished work for the festive period, September and our first nights at Newman House, all the induction days, meetings and nerves feel like a long time ago. Since then we have celebrated three birthdays (or twenty six – if you include all of Edward’s impromptu birthday cakes), attended twelve receptions and ten lectures, visited a mosque, been to Oxford and completed one retreat. 

Ice skating at the Natural History Museum
(Matthew, Michaela, Fiona, Dom, Lucy, Catherine and Stephen)

2012 doesn’t look as though it will be any less busy. Having properly settled into our jobs and routines, it is safe to say we are embracing the London lifestyle and trying to make the most of all the opportunities that come our way.

As the applications for the 2012/13 internship are now open, with our ‘testimonies’ on the Bishops Conference Website, it has made us think about how the actual experience of the internship compares with our expectations of it. For many the responsibilities and range of work we’ve been given has far surpassed what we had imagined out day to day work may involve. Others have found that they have developed knowledge and skills in areas they had previously not engaged with.

As Daniel has said (much more succinctly), “I have realised that no name or description could take in the multitude of opportunities and experiences which we have already enjoyed.”

We have all learnt from mistakes and been given credit for achievements in the workplace and have plenty of stories to tell as we head back home this Christmas.

Our next adventure is to Brussels in the new year, where we will be meeting with an array of MEP’s and the director of Caritas Europe. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Faith in action

Yesterday I went on another ‘visit’ with Bishop Alan Hopes - who’s stalking who is as yet unclear!

This time we were at Whittington Hospital in North London. Bishop Alan met with the Board of Trustees before celebrating Mass in the hospital’s chapel. The Mass included a special blessing of the new Tabernacle and was attended by around thirty people, including staff, a few patients, volunteers and local people who had heard the Bishop would be presiding.

Fr Mark Smith, who is the full time chaplain to Whittington hospital, invited everyone to stay for a buffet lunch that had been put on in honour of the Bishop’s visit. Over a plate of picnic food I chatted to Fr Mark about his day to day responsibilities at the hospital and how he manages to stay so positive when a lot of the time he is ministering to people who are terminally ill. It is clear that Fr Mark is sustained by his faith, which motivates him to comfort the sick and lonely every day.

Bishop Alan and I then accompanied Fr Mark, Fr Peter Scott (who co-ordinates all the healthcare chaplains for the diocese) and Sr Aideen on their daily ward rounds. Fr Mark and Sr Aideen visit the intensive care unit every day but take it in turns to visit other wards, along with the Anglican chaplain. The Bishop seemed to have taken on celebrity status in the hospital and people’s faces visibly lit up on seeing him. He spoke with junior doctors, ward sisters and volunteers, congratulating them on their hard work as well as speaking with patients, many of whom were emotionally overwhelmed by the genuine interest he took in their suffering.

Fr Mark with patient Michael, Bishop Alan, Sr Aideen and Fr  Peter

The hospital had a wonderfully festive feel to it, with fierce competition between the staff to win the ‘best dressed ward’ prize of a box of biscuits and bottle of Champagne. Fr Mark, Fr Peter and Sr Aideen are obviously very highly respected and well liked around the hospital, but told me of the difficulty in having a purposeful presence on the wards whilst not getting in the way of the staff.

Hospital chaplains, they said, have worked hard to improve the image of priests on the wards over the last ten or twenty years as people use to be quite fearful of them – assuming someone was about to pass away. Now, however, people recognise the priest as someone there to offer pastoral care, to have a friendly chat with or confide in.

On the drive back to Archbishop’s House, Bishop Alan said that the visit had left him energised – a feeling that I’m sure was shared by everyone who met him throughout the afternoon. I feel very privileged to witness the churches faith in action and to have experienced its positive effects. 

Acts of Random Kindness

On Wednesday night the interns turned out in force to charm donors to Catholic schemes and programmes, such as this internship. We met with a wide variety of people, from retired bankers to journalists, theatre fund-raisers and doctors, all of whom expressed a keen interest in the internship.

The quality of the invitations was reflected in the canapés, which were circulated by some of the most enthusiastic waiters we’ve encountered. The Archbishop of Westminster chatted with us about how all of our internships are going.  He later addressed the room, thanking everyone for their on-going support and asking for their prayers that the good work carried out as a result of their contributions may long continue.

In his address, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, spoke of a recent visit to a primary school where the children told him they were building the ark. Presuming the children were referring to Noah’s Ark, the Archbishop asked what they were building the ark from. However he had misunderstood as the children went on to explain that the ARK they were building was one of love and respect through ‘Acts of Random Kindness’. This had touched the Archbishop and struck a chord with those listening too, as it is the same altruistic spirit the children were engaged in promoting that had led many of the people at the reception to be there.

The Archbishop called for us all to embrace this spirit of love and generosity by performing more ‘random acts of kindness’ this Advent.

Not 24 hours had passed until we were gathered together again experiencing – and not performing – an act of random kindness as we were treated to a delicious dinner by a friend of the scheme, whom we had met on the retreat back in October.

We all had a lovely evening at a beautiful Italian restaurant where we were thoroughly spoiled. The same lady has been extremely generous with her professional expertise these past few months too.

It is amazing to meet people who are so supportive of what we are all doing this year and to know we are being given countless unique opportunities because of their selfless acts of  random kindness.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Tom Clarke MP

Tom Clarke, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, kindly agreed to be interviewed after I met him at CAFOD's parliamentary reception last month. This interview touches on aspects of all our internship roles, as he is the Chairman for the Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD group, has a keen interest in media and is an MP...
Tom Clarke

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Tom Clarke’s election as MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, making him one of the longest serving MP currently in the House of Commons. This in itself is remarkable. It is also rather intimidating. Surely, I thought as I sat preparing my questions, this must be a formidable man, not to be crossed or challenged too much? Surely someone who has lasted in Whitehall for three decades is a hardened politician, measured, manipulative. 

This preconceived idea seemed to be at odds with the man that warmly greeted me into his office at Portcullis House, offering me a seat and a coffee before answering every one of my questions in unexpected detail.

As he is the chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD group, I began by asking Tom about where his interest in development had stemmed from.

LJ: You have a strong track record of championing development and overseas aid, where did this interest stem from?
TC: My earliest memory of CAFOD is from primary school and my teacher, Mrs Dunn. She use to show us a magazine called ‘Far East’ produced by the Columbian Mission and the picture on the front of the magazine was always the same, a little boat moored to the side of a jetty in some far off place.

Years later when I was shadow secretary for development, I was visiting the Philippines and saw a boat just like the one I remembered from the Far East magazine. I wrote to tell Mrs Dunn that I had found her boat.  It was Mrs Dunn who really first sparked my interest in development then, all be it inadvertently.

LJ: In light of all the spending cuts do you think that there is a case for deprioritising development spending?
TC: Absolutely not. I feel very strongly about Britain continuing to support countries deemed rich enough to help their own people but that are unlikely to, such as North Korea. Yes, we are in tough economic times but the suffering we are going through is only magnified in the developing world. The more we suffer, the more people in developing countries suffer.

LJ: Are there any CAFOD campaigns in particular that really resonated with you?
TC: The Make Poverty History campaign in 2006 was especially poignant for me personally as it happened around the time of the Private Members Bill I introduced being divan royal assent. It is extremely hard to get a Private Members Bill passed, so it feels like a massive achievement.

The International Development Bill came into effect in July 2006 and means DFID has to report to the government on all their spending, so that they are accountable and transparent. It was also the first time that the Government’s commitment to give 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) in overseas aid by 2013 was enshrined in law, and tracks the progress of Government policy towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

LJ: Have you had any particularly profound experiences of development in action?
TC: I visited a refugee camp in Uganda as Shadow Secretary for Development and on Social Services, during the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. Bodies were literally floating down the river and people couldn’t dig mass graves fast enough before the bodies had piled up again. The rivers had become so polluted that the fish all dies, and as they were the local people’s main food source this caused further problems of malnutrition and increased tensions that were already running very high.

LJ: Coming back to Britain, you have been an MP for the best part of three decades, what are a couple of the biggest changes you have seen in your constituency in that time?
 TC: Having been the MP for Colebridge for nearly 30 years, there have been lots of changes. The biggest has to have been Thatcherism and the closing of the mines. It had a terrible effect of the communities in my constituency but there has been good to come out of the hardship we initially faced. It taught us not to put all of our eggs in one basket and there had been a fantastic regeneration period that has seen many more people owning their own homes, going on holiday and generally having a better standard of living than before. Of course the recession has meant that some people have come unstuck again though...

I really admire the regeneration that has occurred across the whole of the North of England, entire cities that were devastated by the one government have been totally redeveloped in brilliant vibrant prosperous places. I’d like to think this happened as a result of many of the policies and programmes the last Labour government put in place, and, credit where it’s due, the new coalition has carried on with a lot of the more positive aspects of these urban-planning schemes.

LJ: How do you manage the potential conflict between your religious and political convictions?
TC: I don’t let my job compromise my beliefs, but at the same time I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve. I always vote with my conscience. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Caritas Reception and Allen Hall

Yesterday lunchtime the other interns got a chance to see one of the many things Dom and Marie have been working on. As we squeezed our way into Caritas’ (very well attended) Parliamentary Reception, held in the House of Commons, we were greeted by MP’s, Peers and people working for various charitable organisations that come under the Caritas Social Action Network umbrella.

The reception was a chance for all supporters of Caritas to mingle and exchange ideas and experiences, as well as hear the Archbishop of Westminster speak. The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols highlighted the need to “foster the common good” that existed between those in attendance and the work that they do, echoing advice given by the Holy Father on his visit to the UK last year.

The Archbishop went on to praise the work of member organisations of the Caritas network in helping those who are marginalised in society. He alluded to the current economic and social challenges that include; the effects of cutbacks, the repercussions of the summer riots, and the growing pressure upon families and young people.

Later the same day, we met each other at Allen Hall in Chelsea and joined Mgr Mark O’Toole and the seminarians in the chapel for Adoration. We were given a brief history of the seminary, which has been in existence in some form for over three hundred years, before being split up amongst those who live at Allen Hall for dinner. This enabled/ forced us to talk to the seminarians and priests, all of whom seemed delighted to have guests (if only for the wine this had prompted the Rector to buy).

Allen Hall Seminary, Chelsea
All of the interns appreciated a good home cooked meal with pumpkin pie for dessert to acknowledge the American tradition of Thanksgiving, being celebrated today. After dinner we were taken on a tour by Mark, one of the seminarians at Allen Hall. On the tour, Mark referred to what seemed like the majority of the rooms as, “the least used room in the building,” which left us slightly puzzled as to where the seminarians spend their time. Nonetheless, we left well fed and well informed having had a lovely evening with interesting people.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

CAFOD's Annual Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture

Fr Christopher Jamison delivered CAFOD's annual Pope Paul VI Memorial lecture last Friday at St Mary and St Michael's Church in East London. 

In his lecture, entitled ‘Charity begins at home: but what is charity and where is home?’ Fr Jamison said, “We need a William Wilberforce of the banking world [to] bring about the abolition of immorality that will not weaken our economy, only strengthen it.”

Speaking in the ‘Cathedral of the East End’, Fr Jamison was quick to point out the dire financial juxtaposition between the borough of Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest in the entire country, and the square mile of the City that is right next door – possibly the most wealthy area in the UK.

Council flats in Tower Hamlets overlook the City's financial district

People from these areas have more in common than anyone might think though as they both caused a media storm in the form of the financial crisis and summer riots. Fr Jamison blamed these events on the ‘loss of purpose’ people have suffered from. The bankers and the rioters must, according to Fr Jamison, rediscover their purpose in life, before establishing their rights over their responsibilities.

People often turn to the Church to find this lost sense of purpose, Fr Jamison noted. He urged the Church to be more proactive in practicing the values it preaches, playing a positive role in reclaiming local communities by addressing the needs of those closest to home. The places people live need to become places where they feel they belong, and have that sense of purpose.

Fr Jamison also called for a renewed sense of conscience and morality in the financial sector, suggesting a compulsory 'Ethical Training' course for those working in investment banks. He called for bankers to realise that their career is also a vocation and they need to the ethically sound foundations of their profession.

Extracts from the lecture can be read on the CAFOD website, by following the link.

The lecture was extremely well attended and everyone quickly made their way from the chilly church into the school hall next door to investigate the rumours of hot drinks and nibbles. Many of the canapés flew in the face of Friday Penance but by 10pm on a cold Friday evening the Bishop’s were willing to offer us special dispensation. As the crowd thinned, the music was turned off and the wine had run out, we all went our separate ways to revive ourselves over the weekend and regain some energy for the week ahead, featuring Catholic Voices and dinner at Allen Hall. 

Inter-faith Day

The annual Inter Faith Day organised by Katharina Müller, Interreligious Adviser to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, was one which was highly illuminating and engaging for all concerned.

The day began with glorious sunshine, bathing the interns with its mid-November warmth, as we made the short walk to the Al Manaar Islamic Centre. We were greeted by a very welcoming and jovial member of the community, called Fahim, who was to be our guide for the visit (He was called Fahim). We were shown into the Centre and were given a tour around the entire facility, including the mosque area.

The tour allowed the group to see the inner workings of a mosque and the various elements to it including; a carefully monitored library, a crèche, toilets with extensive ablution facilities in line with Muslim practices. The carefully sculpted furniture and décor was all embossed with Arabic script from the Quran.

(Lucy, Stephen, Dominic, Matthew, Fahim and the Imam)
On completing the tour we then had a spot of traditional mint tea and baklava whilst Fahim answered some questions that the interns had. We were then guided to the Friday prayer ceremony, the girls to the balcony which had screens so that their view was restricted, and the men to the mosque itself. The imam began with a sermon in Arabic that lasted over half an hour and then gave a brief story in English. At this point the male interns were asked to leave the room so that the congregation could complete their cycles of prayer. The numbers present at the ceremony were vast and the 3 rooms in the mosque could not accommodate all of the men.

Afterwards the women were allowed back into the company of the men and the Director of the mosque came to say a brief hello and offered a warm welcome to us. The misconception was that we were all on a “Bishops Training Scheme”, something which we were quick to point out was against the laws of the Church and utterly absurd!

We were then given Fahim’s email address, mobile number, BBM code, Facebook, Twitter and other such means of communication if we had any further questions.

On leaving the mosque we made our way across London for a deliciously pescatarian lunch in the company of our mentor and guide Edward Davies (unfortunately on this occasion Julia was otherwise engaged).

This was swiftly followed with a rather unique tour of religious artefacts in the V&A museum which was an experience not to be forgotten easily. The amount of artefacts shown and the extremely thorough explanations of each one’s origin, purpose, potential owner and star sign engaged the interns for over two hours. We all had a marvellous time.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Annual Theos Lecture 2011

General Lord Richard Dannatt last night delivered the Annual Theos Lecture, entitled “The Battle for Hearts and Minds: Morality and Warfare Today”.

The lecture was a mixture of practical aspects of military ventures as well as reflections on how changes in society have affected the attitude of the men and women who serve in the armed forces, referred to by Dannatt as the “raw material”.

The lecture was littered with references to recent alarming activity including the summer riots, the phone hacking crisis and MP’s expenses scandal to name but a few. Dannatt contended that the public outrage at these incidences was based on moral objections, even more so than legal or financial grievances.

This is interesting given that if you only read the tabloids, you would think that 90% of society was involved in all these wanton activities, not opposing them. Dannatt noted that the decline in moral standards is something that the army cannot accept but it is not the job of the military to enforce morality in society at large. This would lead us down a very slippery slope.

Lord Dannatt also spoke of good leadership qualities and the way in which these should be cultivated. He believed that it is farcical to say people are either born natural leaders or not, although of course there are certain innate tendencies that can be of great help. This was a thought provoking point for those interns wishing to enter public life.

This internship, in fact, epitomises many of the ways the Church is able to have a positive influence on young people, especially those entering public service. The “social and economic liberalism” blamed by Dannatt for the descent of moral standards can be combated in many ways by a holistic approach to the individual, such as this internship provides. Not only are we expected to take on professional responsibilities, but to explore ethics at an academic level at Heythrop and develop a better understanding of ourselves in relation to our faith through spiritual direction.

After the lecture we descended into a beautiful marble reception room and spoke at length to the Bishop of the Armed Forces, Richard Moth, pictured with us below. We also met Caroline Wyatt, the BBC’s long-standing Defence Correspondent, who had chaired the question and answer session following the lecture.

Attending all these after-work lectures has had the indirect effect of making us all experts on canapés. The ones on offer last night were the best yet, with a selection of sweet and savoury mini delicacies. How will the canapés at the CAFOD memorial lecture next week compare...?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

CAFOD Reception at Speakers House

Last night, three of the interns attended the CAFOD MP Correspondent reception, held in Speakers House.

The MP Correspondents are a group of loyal CAFOD supporters who take it upon themselves to write to their MP’s with different ‘campaign actions’ suggested by CAFOD. The MP Correspondents are asked to write to their MP three times a year and are supported by CAFOD with sample letters and briefs, as well as opportunities to share ideas with other MP Correspondents.

The reception last night was one such occasion where MP Correspondents met with one another, along with MP’s and CAFOD staff involved in furthering CAFOD’s cause in parliament. Thanks to the pure persistence and dedication the MP Correspondents have shown to CAFOD campaigns over the years, some real advancements have been made in passing proactive legislation designed to help those most vulnerable in the developing world. More recently, supporters have secured tough climate change laws, and seen billions of pounds of debt cancelled.

Speakers at last night’s reception included Tom Clarke MP, Chris Bain, director of CAFOD, Bishop John Arnold, who is now the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and pictured above, and Baroness Stowell. All spoke of their gratitude for the support MP Correspondents give to CAFOD and the necessity of keeping up the good work, helping politicians to make tough decisions by showing that the public believe in bettering the lives of those still living in unimaginable poverty.

It was an interesting opportunity for the interns to meet with people working in development and for Dominic and Marie to see another side of work they are involved with. Tonight we are all off to the Theos Annual  lecture, to be given by General Lord Richard Dannatt on, “The Battle for Hearts and Minds: Morality and Warfare Today”, watch this space for our verdict...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Out and about with Bishop Alan

I’ll admit that before going to the Westway Travellers site my only knowledge of the travelling community had been gained from watching ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ last year whilst still at uni, probably in bed with a hangover, sipping a black coffee and mustering the energy to lift a spoon full of cereal to my mouth as it gaped open at the ten year olds gyrating in brightly coloured mardi-gras style outfits.

What a misconception.

The Travellers I met at the Westway site this week were some of the most friendly and hospitable people I’d ever encountered, not to mention religious. Everywhere I looked pictures and statues of saints, Jesus and the Virgin Mary adorned doors, walls and car rear-view mirrors. Sr Petronia, who had organised the visit, also told me about the travelling community’s generosity in giving to the Church and charities.

The excitement of the Bishop’s visit was palpable in the crowd that had gathered to greet him, as we got out of the car and began shaking hands with young men and women, small children and older members of the community.

Not everyone was as keen on meeting the Bishop face to face, but as we made our way through the site pristine net-curtains twitched in the front of caravans veiling those inside too shy or suspicious to come outside.

Mass was held in a porter-cabin that is normally used as a crèche or nursery. Around twenty people were waiting for us, having set up a small table as an altar. Generations of the same family sat side-by-side with grandmothers cooing over newborn babies and young mothers fussing over toddlers. Heavy gold jewellery clinked against each other as late comers hurried in and by the end of Mass the congregation had almost doubled.

After Mass, Bishop Hopes went to see each family and blessed their homes, cars, pets, children, unborn babies and religious figurines. As we got in the car to leave he turned to me and said, with a smile, “That’s what it’s all about, Lucy, you can’t be a Bishop from behind a desk.” I am really glad my first encounter with the travelling community was such a positive one.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Inaugural Newman Lecture

On a mild morning in late October, as leaves littered the pavements of Berkeley Square, the interns made their way to Farm Street for Mass and a thought provoking discussion with Fr James regarding the nature of the human person. This was a good opportunity to reflect on the week ending and discuss some areas of Catholic Social Teaching that are central to our daily work.

Following from these discussions the interns then prepared for the inaugural Newman Lecture, organised by the Catholic Bishops Conference. The evening promised to be an interesting and humorous affair, Frank Cottrell Boyce (who delivered the lecture) did not disappoint. The author, screen writer and co-organiser of the Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony, was on fine form. In a well-attended Notre Dame Lecture Hall, Frank (author of “Millions”) had the audience captivated with witty quips about the nature of Saints and Sainthood, as well as providing an interesting glimpse into some of Newman’s life and work.  The lecture was followed by a brief question and answer session where Frank was asked about his life and work, as well as questions regarding Newman himself.

The reception after the lecture was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The interns mingled and met with many different people, as well as enjoying the refreshments which were all the more satisfying given the plague of food poisoning that was an unfortunate consequence of cold fish fingers the week previously.

The opportunity to listen to speakers such as Frank and to meet new people, both in the clergy and laity, was one which the interns found most rewarding. We will now look forward to the “Inter-Faith Day” which is due to be held in two weeks time.

Monday, 24 October 2011

This week has been another busy one for the interns. On Thursday night we attended the Tablet’s annual lecture, this year given by the Right Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster. The title of the lecture was 'Holiness Today: The Formation of the Human Heart'. The Archbishop spoke of how we are all on our own pathways to finding God and understanding His presence in our lives. Not only did he speak for over an hour but also answered a question and answer session on a variety of points people had picked up on his lecture. Having heard a lot of politicians speak over the past few weeks, we all admired how genuine and honest the Archbishop appeared to be when he spoke and told him so when we met him after the lecture.

After our meeting with Fr James the next day, we took a train to Oxford to attend the Anscombe Memorial Lecture. Professor Robert P George, from Princeton University, gave this year’s lecture, entitled "Science, Philosophy and Religion in the Embryo Debate.” Although none of us have a special interest in medical ethics, the lecture was very thought provoking.

We took advantage of the drinks reception after the lecture (some more so than others) and the opportunity it gave us to talk to other people who had attended the lecture. We then went for dinner at Oriel College, where Cardinal Henry Newman was a fellow, and is commemorated with beautiful stained glass windows in what was his personal Oratory.

As everyone has been so busy settling into their new jobs and routines, we haven’t been together as a group for a fortnight. It was great to catch up with everyone on Friday and hear about what we’ve all been up to. 
From left to right: Michaela, Daniel, Dominic, Stephen, Matthew, Lucy and Marie (and Edward Davies)

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Catholic Parliamentary Interns 2011/12: Retreat to Drumalis

As temperatures in London soared to record heights for this time of year, the 2011/12 Catholic Parliamentary Interns zipped up their jackets, grabbed their umbrellas and headed out for a bracing walk along the coast of East coast of Northern Ireland. Ignoring texts inviting us to bbq’s back home, we made (yet another) cup of tea and tried not to think about the last burst of summer we were missing out on.

It was easy not to dwell on this, however, as we navigated our way through Morning Prayer, informal discussions led by Fr James Hanvey, Mass, Adoration and, of course, meal times, during the first of our retreats this year.

We stayed at Drumalis, near Larne in Northern Ireland, which is a beautiful retreat centre with everything you need for a peaceful weekend including beautiful grounds, a small yet striking chapel and comfortable accommodation.

Having had an intense week of meetings and induction days, Drumalis allowed us to stop and take stock of the incredibly fortunate position we find ourselves in. The tranquillity experienced at Drumalis standing in stark contrast to the hectic lifestyles we’ve thrown ourselves into in London.

We shared personal experiences and opinions about prayer and faith, what we hoped for this year and how we feel about being young Catholics in today’s increasingly secular society.

We also shared a couple of cheeky Chinese take-aways and got to see people in different lights. As we will be spending a lot of time together this year it was important for us to find common ground, other than our faith.

The time we spent in Drumalis has given us a solid foundation for the journey we are all about to embark on as we take up our placements, a journey that is bound to be both professionally challenging and spiritually rewarding.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Back from Brussels

We're back from Brussels after an intense few days learning about the EU, how COMECE works and...forestry!

The trip provided us with a unique chance to understand the EU - love it or hate it - as well as see how the European machine all fits together. We saw how different groups view each other and what they do, and interestingly what the EU sees as religions role in the greater running of the European Parliament, Commission and Council.

For me one of the most fascinating chats we had was with the man responsible for religious dialogue at the European Commission - he say it as his job to let them all have a chance to contribute and air their problems. This was good. However, he also noted that they weren't allowed to talk about contentious issues such as abortion, euthanasia - as 'the EU knows their stance on these issues', I found this a bit more disheartening, that religion didn't get to logical explain our stand points.

Thankfully, the World Youth Alliance are there to fill this gap. I really enjoyed our talk by the WYA, where the members explained what they do, how they campaign and how they lobby Parliament. This direct tactic and the conviction they had was impressive and inspiring. It made me believe that Youth have a voice at the European stage on life issues.

Although we only had two days of meetings we packed a lot in!

Next we're off to visit a Prison with Fr Malachy.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Off to Brussels!

European Parliament
The interns are off to Brussels tomorrow to learn about the EU parliament, COMECE and see where our fellow Brussels intern has been living.

On Wednesday (22 June) we'll meet Michael Kuhn,Deputy General Secretary, Advisor for Education and Culture at COMECE along with Johanna Touzel, Press Officer for an introduction to the programme, religious organisations in Brussels and how COMECE interfaces with the EU.

After lunch at the COMECE Secretariat we grab a coffee with Wendelin Gravenreuth, Project Manager, Confederation of European Forest Owners. Then we meet Tim Foley (2md Secretary, Press and Information)

Then it's off to European Parliament where we're meeting a former intern - Rhiannon Price, who is currently working for Kay Swinburn MEP. 

Afterwards we'll meet with  Jacek Sariusz-Wolski, EPP followed by a tour of Parliament with a visit to a mini Plenary session.

To give us a flavour of a typical EU parliamentary meeting we'll attend a hearing "Connecting Europe's transport and energy infrastructures". 

Lastly we'll meet Andrew Hollingsworth, Public Affairs Manager, Novartis.

On Thursday we're off to meet Fr Frank Turner, at the Jesuit European Office followed by Iris Reinmidl, World Youth Alliance (WYA).

In the afternoon we'll off to the European Commission to discuss Dialogue with Religions, Churches and Communities of conviction, with Mr Jorge César das Neves, Adviser, Bureau of European Political Advisers (BEPA). 

The day ends with the Council of the European Union where we'll meet Mr Guy Milton who is responsible for relations between the Council and the European Parliament.

Mass ends our intern trip to Brussels, and a busy few days!
I've been to Brussels once before - as have the others - but none of us has seen the EU parliament. For the parlimentary interns this should be particularly illuminating - comparing the EU to our own parliament. Having worked so closely to our system I wonder what they will think of the EU? We'll let you know how it goes when we get back next week!

Monday, 6 June 2011

A different point of view - literally!

It was clear that throughout our visit to the Vatican we'd gained a greater understanding the way things work. But, while we'd changed our point of view on a lot of old myths surrounding the Church's home in Rome we also had a different point of view more literally!

Take a look a the stunning view from the Secretariat of State - impressive, no?

Media Intern

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A sneak peek at website!

We were extremely lucky during our Rome trip as we were given a sneak peek of the website - the new Vatican website that's to be launched this June (2011).

Here's a rather cloak and dagger style film preview of the new website!

Video: Fr Lombardi chats to the Interns

During our trip to Rome we were lucky enough to meet with Fr Lombardi, who deals with all the press at the Vatican. We spoke about the importance of diocesan meeting, the recent bloggers meeting (2 May), what our role is in spreading the good news and how we can react responsibly when it comes to using social media and blogging. Fr Lombardi allowed us to video some of his answers which you can watch below.

Jo-Anne Rowney
Media Intern

Interns visit Roma! Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Chris, Brussels Intern, shares our experience at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

On a hot early summer afternoon the interns were saluted by the Swiss Guards as we made our way into the Vatican. With Mr Edward Davies of Eccleston Square as our escort, we were taken through the immaculately kept gardens, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences where Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo was awaiting us. He gave us an introduction to the operations of the Academy of Sciences, which had been founded by Pius XI, with the aim of promoting the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of epistemological problems. The Academy itself comprises of eighty women and men from all over the globe who have made outstanding contributions in their fields of scientific endeavour. To obtain a seat in the Academy they are nominated by the Pope after being elected by the body of the Academicians.
Steven Hawkins is one of the members of the Academy

 We were made aware of one of the most recent works of the Academy vis-à-vis the fate of mountain glaciers in the anthropocene, a report which draws on various research sources to inform all people on the potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. The report concluded that by acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we can accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life (to access the report click

We met Archbishop Sanchez who explained what the Academy does

During the remainder of the tour we were given a very thorough explanation of the actual building in which it is housed- the Casina Pio IV, which was built in 1561 to serve as a summer residence for Pope Pius IV. The stunning Casina is a well-preserved building, covered in sixteenth century frescoes, stucco reliefs, mosaics and fountains.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Staying in Rome with the Hot Cross Bun Sisters

Whilst in Rome the interns stayed in the beautiful and very welcoming Casa Santa Brigida, located on Piazza Farnese in the heart of the historical centre of the city, and a few metres away from the English College. The Casa itself is a XV century building, in which the Sisters of the ‘Brigidine Order’ work tirelessly to make the stay of their guests a pleasant one. In the first floor of the house it is possible to visit the three rooms where Saint Bridget lived and died; other perks included the view from the roof terrace and the friendliness of the other guests.
The 'Hot Cross Bun' Sisters! Can you see why?
For more information about this hotel and other hotels of the Brigidine order click here

Brussels Intern

Accommodation in Rome, Casa Santa Brigida, Piazza Farnese

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Visit to Rome

Early on Monday morning, the interns will be on their way to the airport for a once in a lifetime trip to Rome.
The visit is packed full of exciting meetings with important people in the Vatican, Mass in St Peter's Basilica, a tour of the Vatican Gardens and some free time to explore this beautiful city.

Casa Santa Brigida - our accommodation in Rome
After arriving mid-morning and settling into our accommodation for the three days we are in Italy's capital city, we will meet Fr John Paul Leonard who is the Pastoral Director of the Venerable English College which is next door to Casa Santa Brigida for a tour of the College and Mass.     
After lunch we have a meeting with   Lesley-Anne Knight who is the Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis. Prior to her appointment, she was International Director of CAFOD, the Caritas member in England and Wales and in the course of more than 25 years in international development, she has also worked with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Oxfam, and HelpAge International. As Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, Lesley-Anne Knight manages the General Secretariat in the Vatican City, and the confederation’s delegations to the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
Following this, we are meeting Monsignor Philip Whitmore from the Secretariat of State. The Secretariat of State is the oldest and most important dicastery of the Roman Curia and is the pre-eminent department of the Vatican. Cardinal Bertone, the current Secretary of State is seen as the Prime Minister of the Vatican, the deputy to the Pope and is in charge of the political and diplomatic activities of the Holy See. Mgr Philip Whitmore is a priest of the Westminster diocese and works on translation and papal speeches within the Secretariat.
We are planning to meet up with Peter Stoddart, Catholic Parliamentary Intern last year, who is in his first year training for the priesthood at the Venerable English College, for dinner in the evening.
The stunning Vatican Gardens
After Mass celebrated by Fr John Paul Leonard first thing on Tuesday morning, we have more meetings lined up.  We are meeting Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office and Irish priest, Mgr Paul Tighe, who is the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication.  In the afternoon, we are walking through the beautiful Vatican Gardens to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to meet the Chancellor of the university, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo.  In the evening, we have been invited to dinner at the British Embassy to the Holy See hosted the Deputy Head of Mission.
Early on Wednesday morning we are going to Mass at St Peter’s Basilica followed by meetings at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas. After some free time on Wednesday afternoon, sadly we have to return to London.

St Peter's Basilica
I am incredibly excited about our visit to Rome. This really is a breathtaking list of inspiring people that we are meeting. We are extremely grateful for the unique opportunity we have been given as Catholic Parliamentary and Public Affairs interns to do this and I sincerely hope that we the make the most of it.
During our time in Rome we will be interviewing some of the people we meet and taking lots of pictures – so watch this space when we get back!  

Naomi Brandon
Public Affairs intern 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A busy bank holiday

Not being one to let a Bank Holiday go to waste, my past three days have been pretty busy. Some of the interns, staying in Newman House for our 11 day holiday (or 7 for those with those three days working!) were perfectly placed to get a spot for the Royal Wedding. Danny, ever the early bird, bagged a good spot as a reward for his 3am start. I headed down a bit later but still got near the Abbey on Parliament’s Square. We didn’t have a TV near, but had a lady with a radio, and listened to the vows being said over the large speakers in the Square. I normally hate jostling to get a space within huge crowds, but the day was exciting and we got quite into the party spirit! After getting back to Newman House we re-watched the whole days’ events on TV, spotting ourselves behind Fiona Bruce! We had been behind the BBC cameras, spotted Bruce, Andrew Marr and some sky reporters as well as some celebs as they entered the Abbey.

Sunday saw the Beatification of John Paul II. Attending Mass in the morning, I skipped watching the coverage online, but headed down to Westminster Cathedral in the afternoon for the special screening of the Beatification Mass. There was a polish choir – it was set up by the Catholic Polish Mission - as well as the Cathedral community.
There was an emotional documentary on John Paul II, then the re-transmission, with prayers from Bishop Stack (Archbishop-elect), and a Polish Rector. After toasting JPII in the pub we headed back to Newman House.  

Following the Beatification there was a lot of discussion on twitter debating miracles and the process of beatification, which led to me being able to write a few articles on the topic. I submitted a blog post for the Youth Blog too, which hopefully should be available soon.
On Monday I got up early to travel to Southwark Cathedral, south of the River, for the Mass for Migrants. The Mass was colourful, the hymns were sung joyously and there was a great celebratory mood! The procession saw people of many different nationalities celebrate their diversity, representing migrants across London.
Afterwards the groups processed across Waterloo bridge to the London Assembly marking 10 years since London Citizens launched a campaign for a fair wage. Over 2000 people attended the Mass, and many continued on for the procession. It was great seeing the work people do, to help others – and in this case – while also celebrating their roots.
All in all a very busy bank holiday! Next stop Rome…

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

'Universal Catholicism' in the Maghreb and the Mashriq

Brussels Intern, Chris shares his experience of a COMECE conference.

Recently COMECE held a two day conference on the decades of diplomatic deadlock and conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. The various speeches and debates were dedicated to Christian Churches in Maghreb and Mashriq, with COMECE Bishops warmly encouraging the citizens to continue their commitment towards the establishment of fundamental rights and democracy in the affected regions.

Seeing as the revolutions, or rather uprisings (the word revolution was concluded to insinuate the over-use of violence) were launched by the younger generation, the conference took time to pay special tribute to them, who in all the countries concerned played a leading role by initiating and organising this uprising in a courageous, peaceful and ecumenical way.

Despite their minority population, Christians in these countries share a common citizenship with their fellow citizens from other religions; each religion forms an integral part of their societies. After having had the benefit of hearing from several experts from the Arab world and
from the EU institutions, the following recommendations to were made to the EU:

- How more and concrete solidarity among the Member States of the EU is urgently needed in facing the inflow of migrants and refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.
- How the EU should help in improving the deplorable situation in these countries by developing new tools to efficiently foster modernisation and democratisation in their societies
- In the context of changes in the Arab world, how the EU should stress the importance of granting equal rights to all citizens of those countries, irrespective their ethnic or religious origin.

Throughout the conference the importance of inter-religious dialogue was clearly placed in the limelight. Dialogue should be a two-way communication, which implies speaking and listening, giving and receiving, for mutual growth and enrichment. Under the often overly brandished-about umbrella term of inter-religious dialogue is included the witness to one's own faith as well as an openness to that of the other. It was made clear how it is not a betrayal of mission of the Church, nor how it should be a new methodology of conversion to Christianity.

Finally, comments were made to the insecurity and threats that Christian minorities are ever more having to put up with in the Arab World. COMECE expressed similar concern about the way religious minorities are sometimes treated in Europe and therefore called upon all citizens, especially Christians, and the political leaders in Europe to assume their responsibilities for promoting dialogue between cultures and civilisations in Europe as well as in the rest of the world.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Catholic social action conference

Archbishop of Westminster makes the opening speech

On Wednesday 6th April, we attended a conference entitled 'Building a New Culture of Social Responsibility' hosted by the Caritas Social Action Network and the Catholic Bishops Conference held at 1 Birdcage Walk. This was a conference on the subject of the contribution of Catholic Social Action in the changing economic and social context and amid the Big Society rhetoric.  
We got there early to help out with the registration of the conference participants. We recognised lots of names and faces including colleagues from the Bishops Conference, people we have met before from CAFOD, the Cardinal Hume Centre and other conferences we have been to, as well as political legends such as Baroness Shirley Williams, BBC Radio 4 Today programme's Ed Stourton who chaired the whole event, and Philip Blond, the thinker behind the Big Society philosophy.
After coffee and registration, Archbishop Vincent Nichols made some introductory remarks, welcoming the conference participants and setting the conference in the context of the bishops' work on deepening social engagement, the conference in Liverpool in February 2011 and the seminar held at Archbishops' House on 9th February 2011.
Helen O'Brien, Chief Executive of CSAN, spoke about Caritas in the UK, before Christoph Petrik-Schweifer, Secretary General for Caritas Austria, gave some input on Social Action and Caritas' structures abroad. Caritas Austria is a well established network, and many felt it was one to be aspired to. Interestingly he described Caritas Austria as a service provider to local authorities. 
Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, set the day's discussions in their economic context. He explained why we are facing the biggest fiscal deficit and the largest period of cuts in sixty years, which he predicts will have "immense and immediate consequences". Paul's talk explained clearly what the cuts will mean for charities and community groups.

The Rt Hon Baroness Warsi

After mingling with the attendees over a coffee, The Rt Hon. the Baroness Warsi, Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without portfolio gave an address on the 'the Government Perspective' focusing on the contribution of Catholic Social Action in the changing economic and social context. 
Her talk centred on four points of social responsibility. Firstly as a massive change in how we think about Government and society, learning from the work that faith communities are doing both at home and abroad, an opening of opportunity to unlock new civic energy through public service reform and finally a need to understand that these priorities are intrinsically linked. You can read her talk online, and watch the video to hear about her concept of the Big Society, her praise of Catholic endeavours and the need for change. While her talk was biased towards a Conservative perspective, it was still interesting to see what a Minister thinks about the work Caritas is doing and where it fits in.  
The Panel takes questions from the attendees
Delegates then took the opportunity to raise their concerns and begin a debate during a panel discussion with Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Jon Cruddas MP, Joanna Killian, Chief Executive of Essex County Council and Bridget Doogan Chief Executive of St. John  of God Hospitaller Services.   
The discussions revealed the views of the charities, the point-of-view of the MPs, as well as helpfully setting Catholic Social Teaching in context of society today.  
Archbishop Peter Smith ended the conference with a summary of the day’s events, thanking all who attended and spoke. He even dabbled in some 'political discussion' himself.  

Jo-Anne Rowney & Naomi Brandon
Public Affairs Interns