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.