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 canap├ęs, 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.