Monday, 6 August 2012

St Beuno's

(Photos to follow shortly)

The train ride to Rhyll was reminiscent of our journey to Drumalis at the beginning of the year. People were tired but sociable, curious about what the retreat would entail and speculation about the next phase in all our lives was rife. 

From the train station we took taxis further into the middle of nowhere, eventually arriving at St Beuno’s Jesuit retreat centre. On route, the taxi driver had reassured us that, yes he did in fact collect people who had survived their stint of silence. 

We met Fr Dave Stewart SJ and Eric, a seminarian from Texas currently studying in Rome, who would be leading our retreat. After a tour and surprisingly good dinner we were relieved to find out that we were not doomed to miss out on the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. We gathered in the AV room to watch the spectacle unfold and fell into bed that first night exhausted from a day of travelling and apprehensive of our ability to shut up for 3 whole days.

Each morning began with breakfast, like all other meals this was taken in silence, before a one-to-one spiritual direction session with either Fr Dave or Eric. Lunch was served around midday and the afternoon was ours to fill as we pleased before Mass followed by dinner in the evening.

We were each given different passages from the Bible to read and pray and encouraged to consider Ignatian spiritual exercises to help us.

The beautiful grounds of St Beuano’s certainly provided a peaceful atmosphere in which to contemplate the many experiences this internship has given us. Manicured lawns encircled scented rose bushes, with gravelled paths leading to a labyrinth and prayer garden as well as fields and a small forest in which the rock chapel nestled on top of the hill. 

The complex itself included an art room with loads of resources (some of us made better use of these than others… Daniel’s clay farmer with a sheep, Michaela’s clay swan candle holder and Marie’s watercolour paintings in particular) several chapels and prayer spaces, meeting rooms, a dining room and accommodation for over 60 people. 

Most of the interns had wisely been given accommodation away from the main building; Michaela, Marie and I were in a cute stone cottage whilst Dom and Matthew were banished to the other side of the (badger ridden) forest to a cottage on the ‘main’ road.

This provided us all with the opportunity to be sociable as well as to take time out for ourselves. The silent nature of the retreats at St Beuno’s created a deep sense of calm and tranquillity that seemed to either seep from or be absorbed even by the study grey stones of the main building.  

Being quiet was hard. The Olympics were on and leaving the buzz of London to be submerged into the quietness of this retreat centre in North Wales felt somewhat unnatural and uneasy. Maybe those ‘retreatants’ who do the hard-core 30 day or 3 month retreats get into more of a routine and are able to entertain themselves better, they didn’t look that happy when we saw them at meal times or Mass but their inner peace must have been strong.

On the last night Charles, Fr Dave and Eric joined us all in the girls’ cottage for some drinks and we debated the night away in heated and determined tones, until we realised what time it was and that we had to be up for a train in a few hours!

The retreat was a fitting end to an incredible year, which has not been without it’s challenges but which has also been absolutely invaluable in the breadth and depth of the life lessons we’ve all learned along the way.  It put prayer back firmly at the centre of our day to day lives and forced us all to take some time out amidst a really hectic few weeks for us all.

Thank you to Charles for accompanying us and to Fr Dave and Eric for being our spiritual directors at St Beuno’s, yet another interesting and unique experience to bring the year to a close.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

ad vincula, in clink- or ‘a place of redemption’?

This morning, our attendance at Mass was a little different. Our photographs were taken, our fingerprints scanned and our belongings stowed away, before joining Rt Rev Mgr Malachy Keegan, Principal Catholic Chaplain at the National Offender Management Service- i.e. National Prisons’ Chaplain- and scores of inmates in the chapel of Her Majesty’s Prison, Pentonville. A Category B/C  prison, it holds some 1200 men, some serving short sentences or beginning longer sentences, but the majority of whom are on remand.

It was in order to house those on remand or awaiting transportation that construction of HMP Pentonville was begun in 1840- making it one of the oldest prisons in the country- and its [then] radical new design of a central hall with five radiating wing blocks, intended to keep prisoners isolated, was used as a prototype for hundreds more throughout Britain and the empire. Although much refurbishment has taken place, the original four cellblocks are as they were when the prison opened in 1842.

Pentonville is a ‘local’ prison, and inmates have included playwright Oscar Wilde, historian David Irving and singers Pete Doherty, Boy George and George Michael. Pentonville also hosted the executions of Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement and the infamous Dr Crippen.

Every prisoner has the right to pursue their declared faith and to participate in relevant acts of worship- even when segregated.

Thus, every prison has a Chaplaincy department, and when a prisoner first arrives, they are usually seen by a Chaplain within 24 hours. The Chaplaincy are able to organise faith activities for all main religions (as recognised by the Prison Service), and can also intercede on matters of religious dress, diet and artefacts.

When we arrived, the Church of England liturgy was in progress- like in the university chaplaincies that we were used to, everyone has their turn. The acting Anglican chaplain actually played the organ for our Mass; it marked a beautiful symmetry with the twin Blessed Sacrament Chapels to the rear. I must admit that the possibility of the Blessed Sacrament’s being reserved in a prison never occurred to me, and I hope that the inmates draw strength from it.

Fr Malachy told us that there are always more inmates who wish to hear Mass than can be accommodated, which is both impressive and also sad, as it means that many cannot fulfil the Sunday obligation as they would wish, but Pentonville is to receive a new Chaplain next week, and there is talk of a second Mass to meet demand! Certainly those prisoners who were able to attend were enthusiastic, and clearly glad of the Monsignor’s care and attention.

It struck me that many seemed unfamiliar with the words and actions of the liturgy, and that this pointed to prisoners rediscovering their faith as a source of strength while in prison. This was reinforced by the number of men who sought both a blessing and reception of the host at communion.

No matter what certain elements of the press might have us believe, a prisoner’s life is not an easy one. Something bad set them on a path that ended in jail, which is tough enough to begin with, and which very often catches them again all too quickly upon release. All too often, we are talking about drugs. Many have fallen into crime because of the effects of drugs, or because of the company that drug abuse often entails, or in seeking to sustain a drug habit. Despite the best efforts of prison authorities, drugs infiltrate the walls, with cases of prisoners becoming addicted while inside, and the dealers are rarely far from the gates, ready to greet those who have been freshly released.

Effective rehabilitation and education can counter this, but it needs a support structure. Fr Malachy spoke to us about projects designed to support those newly released as they build new relationships and lives, and these are estimated to have already saved the prison service in the region of a quarter of a million pounds through lowered recidivism. This is achieved through daily contact with those offering of themselves for this vital work, and is inspired by Christian solidarity.

We discussed the changing pattern of imprisonment in this country, and its effectiveness- or lack thereof. Britain’s prisons currently hold almost 90,000 people- think Bath surrounded by barbed wire and fencing- while our French cousins have comparable levels of crime despite detaining a third fewer convicts. There is also the issue of short sentences: why do we hand down sentences of mere weeks or months? It cannot conceivably be for public safety or rehabilitation. It is for punishment, it is to show that retribution has been exacted, but does it bring about change?

The nature of chaplaincy provision is also changing. Cuts have meant that the service must be justified in its current form, and there seems to be little understanding of why it wouldn’t do for a general chaplain to provide the majority of pastoral care. There seems to be little appreciation of the different ecclesiologies not only between faiths but also between denominations. A Methodist chaplain could no more hear a Catholic prisoner’s confession than a Buddhist chaplain; there are plenty of such examples. Chaplains do much more than lead services, and even if the bureaucrats and civil servants can’t quantify that, the governors are more than fully aware of their value.

Catholics are called, both in scripture and by church leaders, to help and support the imprisoned. It is almost eight years since the Bishops’ Conference published ‘In Place of Redemption’, which made a series of recommendations to improve conditions in prisons and also to improve the prospects for rehabilitation, and indeed for true redemption. The title paraphrases a quote from Blessed John Paul II:
“Prison should not be a corrupting experience, a place of idleness and even vice, but instead a place of redemption.”
Afterwards, we collected our belongings, handed in our passes and stepped out into the sunlight. We are fortunate in this, and we might all offer a prayer for the thousands who, whatever their story, now live lives where they are largely cut off from loved ones, and who are often alone for the majority of their day. We walked on, in search of tea.

For more information on the work of the Catholic Church in England and Wales with regard to prisons, go here.

Information relating to the prison is taken from, the Ministry of Justice and Wikipedia.
Picture credits: Ian Waldie/Getty ImagesWikimedia; Mazur/; Vatican via Reuters files.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Lord Patten

Lord Patten’s entry on Wikipedia reads like a history of pivotal political moments of the last 30 years. Starting out as a researcher for the Conservative party before being promoted to the director of the Conservative Research Department, Lord Patten’s meteoric rise through the political hierarchy began in the same sort of role as some of the interns have held this year.

Lord Patten has come a long way since then. Between 1979 - 1992 he was the MP for Bath, serving as Minister for Overseas Development from 1986 - 1989. He was then appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary f State for the Environment and became responsible for the unpopular Community Charge (aka Poll Tax).

Under John Major Lord Patten was made Chairman of the Conservative Party before being asked to fulfill the role of Governor of Hong Kong, during which time he oversaw the return of the island to China from the British Government.

Stephen, Lord Patten, Dom, Marie, Lucy, Daniel and Matthew

We met with Lord Patten on a humid Tuesday afternoon in his office in No 1 Millbank, which also gave us the opportunity to see where Matthew has been hiding all year (a room with a solitary desk, computer and TV, it seemed about right).

Fresh from discussing the quality and impartiality of BBC News with their main political correspondent, Nick Robinson, in his latest incarnation as Commissioner of the BBC Trust Lord Petten seemed somewhat weighed down by the many things that must be on his mind.

Nonetheless he was interested to learn about the Internship scheme and where each of us had come from, what we had been up to this year and where we were going next.

We then had the opportunity to ask him about his own experiences as a Catholic in public life. He was honest and open with us but said that, with very few exceptions, he had never found being a Catholic in parliament problematic or suffered because of prejudices. He had, however, found himself in some interesting situations such as advising the Prime Minister on appointing a new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991.

One of the first things he did after becoming Chancellor of Oxford University was to commission a plaque commemorating Oxford alumni throughout the ages who had died for their faith. This was to be put up in St Mary’s church in Oxford, an Anglican church, despite commemorating Christian martyrs from any denomination.

Of his time in Hong Kong, Lord Patten said he had a very positive experience of the Catholic Church. When asked about how far the conversation on Climate Change has come since he was Secretary of State for the Environment in the late 80’s and on the topic of the continued viability of the Euro, he was far more sceptical.

This scepticism, he said, was a healthy attribute of any journalist especially those dealing with political stories and scenarios. This was in response to the line from the new Director General of the BBC about journalists waking up in the morning and making the government’s life hell. Lord Patten didn’t dismiss that notion outright.

He encourages us to pursue life in public service as he has found it to be so worthwhile and rewarding himself. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Aid to the Church in Need

Last Friday we met at the Bishops Conference for our last seminar of the year. This was delivered by John Pontifex the Head of Press and Information at Aid to the Church in Need, a global organisation helping Christians who are persecuted.

John Pontifex
John started by telling us that the right to religious freedom, and to choose or change your religion, is enshrined within the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which is as good a place as any to start for defending Christians worldwide.

We learnt about the real life stories behind the news stories we’ve all seen, including the terrible bombing of a church in Nigeria during Mass on Christmas Day in 2011.

The risks people take to continue to be Christians and practice their faith in many places around the world, especially in the East, were astounding and made me feel pretty lazy not to mention lucky. I’ve certainly never had the feeling that I am literally taking my life in my hands by attending Mass, no matter how dodgy Euston may seem.

In North Sudan, for example, Priests have been kidnapped and their houses ransacked. In China and North Korea, priests and Bishops have been jailed or simply disappeared. In Zimbabwe, the Catholic community have been caught up in conflict between the Anglican church and the government. In these countries and many more people carry out their faith at a considerable cost, their courage must not be forgotten by those of us who take such things for granted.

Easter in South Sudan
John Allan, a senior Catholic reporter on world affairs, has described these people as a “New wave of Christian martyrs.” They face persecution on a daily basis and struggle against prejudices which label them as Western sympathisers and outsiders.

The lack of political will to deal with the issue of Christian persecution is staggering. Government’s are aware but unwilling to deal with hate crimes committed against Christians, opting to keep the status quo.

Catholics are often particularly mistrusted by their governments because of our loyalty to Rome and the Pope. Authoritarian regimes try to contain Catholicism like a disease, fearful of it spreading and causing general dissent or disillusionment with the governing authorities.

Upholding the rights of Christians in these countries is especially problematic due to the lack of respect for the rule of law. Local militia groups often claim responsibility for attacks carried out on Christian neighbourhoods or individuals, taking the law into their own hands and interpreting it to suit themselves.

Aid to the Church in Need carries out a range of projects across the world, from building churches in the wake of the 2004 Tsunami, to distributing the Children's Bible wherever it works, as well as funding seminarians in developing countries and providing relief in exceptional circumstances.

The 50 millionth copy of the Children's Bible was published last month

John finished his talk by reminding us that whilst fundraising is crucial to the work of Aid to the Church in Need, so is prayer. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Intern Alumni Drinks

Eccleston Square Garden has come into its own over the past month, playing host to a great BBQ shared by current interns and a lovely drinks reception for interns both past and present.

Fiona Paley, a former Archbishop’s House intern, organised last night’s drinks reception giving many of those who have been involved with the scheme over the years the opportunity to meet up and reminisce as well as hearing about how the scheme has developed.

The weather was on our side and everyone enjoyed chatting with familiar, and some not so familiar, faces over wine and nibbles.

From having spent a year with an MP, in Archbishop’s House or with the Catholic Education Service, former interns appeared to have branched out into a variety of public sector services, from teaching to local government with a few lawyers thrown in for good measure.

Others continue to work for the Church in some capacity; two former interns, Peter and Luke, are in their second year of training for the priesthood out in Rome. One lady is now the Catholic Chaplain for the University of Greenwich and another is working for the Foundation for Marriage.

There has also been the first internship engagement between Chris and Anna – congratulations to them both!
Congratulations are also in order to Dominic who is set to become the co-ordinator for the APPG on Sustainable Agriculture and Development after a successful interview for the post earlier this week.

After a fun few hours in the garden last night, with spirits running high but funds running low for current interns, we said our goodbyes to our predecessors and headed off to Blackfriars bridge for a light show, highly recommended by Michaela.

With day-old croissants and pre-mixed G&T’s in hand (because that’s how we live these days), we excitedly made our way to the embankment, highly anticipating the new levels of wonder and awe Michaela had promised would be encountered.

The disappointment experienced was overwhelming (Dom got pretty rowdy) and Michaela, Matthew, Dom and I strolled back to Newman House stopping off on route for some truly ‘Independent chips’ – fulfilling Daniel’s prophesy form the beginning of the year.

Thank you to everyone who attended last night and to Fiona for organising it – truly the hostess with mostess 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jubilee and Norton Rose

I’m about as neutral as the colour of Kate Middleton’s favourite heels when it comes to the Royal Family. They appear, to me, to be like a lot of other families in the UK, with ups and downs, scandals and celebrations, but all played out in the gloassy pages of Hello! And on the six o clock news – I don’t envy them (well maybe I envy Kate a bit...)

View from our seats as crowds poured in from the Mall

Whether they are there or not, therefore, has little bearing on my day to day life. So it was with some surprise I found myself queuing up in St James’ park with Dom at 9 am on Tuesday morning, Union-Jack-on-a-stick in hand, pic-nic in the other, waiting to take my seat in the stands in front of Buckingham Palace.

What was I there to celebrate? Half my family’s Irish for goodness sake, from the Rebel County of Cork itself, my ancestors would be turning in their potato-famine induced graves!

Still, being entertained by military bands all day, watching the Royals pass by in those gilded open top carriages, then re-emerge on the balcony of the palace after a huge human wave of red, white and blue had been expertly guided down the Mall, was a moment in history and one I’m happy and proud to be a part of.

Daniel, Stephen and Mathew kicked the weekend off at Newman House’s Jubilee boat party on the Friday night, where almost the entire House turned out looking unusually glamorous to toast to the Queen’s 60 year long reign.

Last night, Wednesday we met with Mike Robeiro, a big supporter of the scheme, at the Norton Rose offices where he is a partner. He gave us a very interesting presentation on Norton Roses’ position in the world of globalized corporations and participated in a lively discussion about morality and ethics in the work place with us, after a lovely meal. Thanks Mike!

View from terrace of Norton Rose offices

Friday, 25 May 2012

Happy Birthday Matthew and Marie

On Wednesday 24 May, the interns turned out in force to celebrate Matthew and Marie’s birthdays.

On the hottest day of the year so far, we gathered at a restaurant near Bank to enjoy not only each other’s company but some decidedly sinful looking scallops and steaks.

Since returning from Rome, we have had a talk from Dr Harry Hagopian who is a special adviser to the Bishops Conference on Middle Easter issues. In a talk which could have gone all day, for the wealth of information and passion Harry had for sharing it, we learnt all about the ‘Arab Spring’ last year and what it might mean for Christian groups in the region.

Having been shut away from all civilisation in order to finish my dissertation, this time last year, the events taking place in Northern Africa and the extended Middle East were of interest but low on my to-do list of things to be reading up on.

Harry Hagopian gave us a clear chronology of events and offered an explanation of why they had occurred in the order they did. It was an interesting and informative morning of current affairs and another example of how faith influences political events and vice versa.

Harry’s latest podcast on clashes in Northern Lebanon can be heard here:

Last Friday morning our attentions turned from Middle East hostilities to the Ascension, and the theological and metaphysical questions posed by Christ’s return to heaven in the presence of his disciples – guided by Fr James Hanvey.

This was followed by a tour of Westminster Abbey.

The last week encapsulates the great range of events and issues we are exposed to as interns. We are constantly presented with different perspectives and arguments regarding faith in the public sphere and the potential impact our decisions, or the other decisions of others, can have.

We have a few more seminars with Fr James left as well as another inter-faith day (visiting a synagogue this time) and meetings with some other potentially exciting people... as well as the Eccleston Square Open and our final retreat.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Thirst for Change!

I’m afraid to say this blog really does justify the use of one of Mr Foster’s weather related openings.

It was a cold damp morning, as Dominic, Lucy and Marie opened the front door of Newman House at quarter to eight, to a heavy sky streaked with drizzle, and cars splashing puddles over the pavements that reflected the grey clouds....

Nothing could dampen our spirits though as we headed off to Westminster Cathedral to participate in the final part of CAFOD’s phenomenally successful Lent campaign. The ‘Thirst for Change’ campaign highlighted the fact that 884 million people do not have access to clean, safe water. Something in Britain we take for granted on a daily basis.

As the sun rose this morning, CAFOD supporters gathered at Tower Hill underground station and walked along the river Thames to Westminster, in solidarity with Ethopian pastoralists who have to do so every day to get clean water. At 8am they met with other CAFOD enthusiasts by Westminster Cathedral – who didn’t quite manage to get out of bed before 5 am!

Chris Bain, CAFOD’s Director, addressed the crowd of keen supporters about the success of the Thirst for Change campaign, over complimentary croissants, biscuits and cups of tea as the rain continued to fall outside. A group of school children from Guildford in Surrey spoke about how they raised money and got 900 petition cards singed through various fundraising activities.

As the government has matched the money raised by CAFOD, the total has far exceeded that raised in previous years and will make a huge difference to the lives of many people struggling to survive without adequate access to safe water and sanitation. CAFOD also received three times as many action cards as originally aimed for! 

60,000 action cards
After applauding the efforts of the campaign team and all those involved with raising money for improved access to clean water, we all grabbed our umbrellas and assembled in front of Westminster Cathedral. Once in position, we were each handed a long ribbon with tear-drop shaped action cards stapled along them. These were strung between us and Dom Goggins, CAFOD’s Government Relations officer, who did well to keep hold of all the ribbons and the 60,000 action cards attached to them.

More blue and green ribbons were strung through the ones we were holding and as the wind blew it created a pleasing wave-like ripple bringing the sea of action cards to life.

Katie and Dom
After cheering ‘THIRST FOR CHANGE’ numerous times and being captured on camera by CAFOD photographers, we rolled the ribbons back up into big plastic bags – ready to be delivered to Downing Street later today.

...All before 9.30, well – it’s one way to start your day J

Friday, 11 May 2012

Viva il Papa! Rome Day 3

Revived by sweet croissants and strong coffee we took our seats at the Papal audience on Wednesday morning with the sun beating down. Groups from every corner of the Earth were gathered around us from Mexican nuns to Anglican school groups from the UK. Having decided on what to shout (it took a surprising amount of discussion to decide on Viva il Papa) we waited to be acknowledged by the priest reading out the names of English speaking groups. When the moment came we did ourselves and the internship proud!

Balloons let off during Papal audience

Seeing the Pope up close as he floated by on a specially converted Jeep was a bit surreal but it also made everything we’d been talking about and all the places we’d visited suddenly seem to make sense. The Pope, as Michaela said, had been this omnipresent being the whole time we’d been in Rome and yet seeing him in person and the adoration shown to him by so many pilgrims made the ‘Vatican’ come alive and feel more than a web of bureaucracy.

After the audience, Mgr Paul Tighe, fresh from a conference on Social Communications in Australia, greeted us at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He told us about the effort involved in dragging the Vatican not only in this century but into this decade, reconciling long encyclicals and sermons with 140 character tweets and facebook status updates. He was clearly dedicated to improving and expanding the way in which the Church communicates and passionate about reaching a wide variety of audience.

Our last meeting of the trip was with Fr David Chatres who is training in the Vatican’s Diplomatic Corps. He is the only English student there and was extremely friendly and interesting to talk to over lunch.

In our review of the trip we all took away different highlights and surprises but what seemed to strike us all the most was the humility and conviction of all those we had met. Important people with much better things to be doing had wiling given up their time to talk to us, respond with thoughtful answers to our questions and encourage us in our internships and future work. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

“Has anyone got a tranquiliser we can give Daniel?” : Rome Day 2

Our second day began with a meeting at Vatican Radio and the head of the English section – Sean Lovett. We learnt that the Pope and Winnie-the-Pooh have something in common as they both live in an area of 100 acres. Whether the Holy Father realises this or not is unknown... Sean also told us that Radio Vatican broadcasts in 40 different languages and has the biggest budget of all media sections to enable it do so. Translation is obviously a key issue and the English section often takes the lead on stories that are then translated into other languages and broadcast around the world. Sean clearly loves his job and his infectious enthusiasm put us all in a good mood as we stepped out into the sunshine and wondered up the Via della Conciliazinoe toward the Pontifical Press Office to meet with Fr Lombardi.

Lucy, Stephen, Matthew, Michaela, Fr Lombardi, Marie, Dominic, Daniel and Edward

Respectfully known by his last name, Lombardi greeted us in a plush conference room with traditional cinema seating and a huge papal coat-of-arms above a stage at one end of the room. Huge plasma TV screens adorned the otherwise bare walls, reassuring us about the Vatican’s acknowledgement of 21st century technology. Lombardi spoke at length about his role as director of Vatican Radio, Vatican TV and the L'Osservatore Romano – the daily Vatican newspaper. Before meeting with him we had been sceptical about the wisdom of having one man in charge of all three media outlets but after speaking with him we were utterly convinced of his commitment to the cause of communications.

It was then time to visit another previous intern – Danny Howard – now working for the Human Dignity Institute. (With a good number of past interns now in Rome, there may be hope for some of us yet!) Danny told us about his work, lobbying different European parliaments that are in t eh process of proposing or passing legislation which compromises the dignity of human life as viewed by the Catholic Church.

Whether it was the ever increasing heat or the ridiculous amount of seafood based antipasti at lunch, no one is quite sure but the afternoon rapidly descended into surreal chaos as we were shown around the Pontifical University of Science. Nothing could have prepared us for the debacle I will refer to as ‘Terrapin-gate’ though. Almost in slow motion, and as if by providence, we walked past a fountain outside the university just as one of the two terrapins fell into the outer groove of the fountain and became trapped on the grate where the water gushed out into a drain! A large branch, plenty of commotion and one brave Michaela later the terrapin soared though the sky and plopped safely back into the fountain.

The Terrapin
Having calmed ourselves we headed for the most powerful department within the Vatican – the Secretary of State. Mgr Philip Whitmore, who previously served at the Westminster Cathedral, talked us through his responsibilities which include speech-writing for the Pope and replying to correspondence to the Holy Father. Mgr Whitmore then led us down a corridor and out on to a rooftop terrace adjacent to the Papal apartments with the most stunning views over Rome. We were all taken aback but none more so than Daniel.

Interns with Mgr Whitmore on the terrace overlooking St Peter's square
An hour later we found ourselves on another beautiful rooftop terrace, this time with a cool glass of Prosecco in hand, having met with the UK Ambassador to the Holy See. Nigel Baker has been the ambassador since September and works closely with his Deputy Justin Bedford and Ecclesiastical Advisor Mgr Charley Burns, both of whom also met with us at the ambassador’s apartment. All those featured on our itinerary had been invited to dinner which was eaten back downstairs and followed by a great opportunity to chat informally to an eclectic mix of people. 

Interns on Tour: Rome Day 1

Between rescuing Terrapins in the Vatican Gardens and consuming our collective body weights in pizza and ice cream – the interns managed to make it to some pretty fascinating meetings in Rome over the last few days.

Dominic, Lucy, Matthew, Michaela and Stephen in front of Trevi Fountain

Arriving on Friday night, the weekend was spent sight-seeing and sheltering from the rain as the forecasted sunshine and showers prevailed. On Sunday morning we found ourselves surrounded by a great deal of pomp and ceremony at the annual swearing-in of the new Swiss Guards. We quickly combated this cultural expereince with a healthy dose of English premiership football in an ‘Irish Pub’ just off Piazza Navona as the downpour continued outside.

Our official itinerary kicked off on Monday morning with a visit to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – previously know, amongst other things, as the Spanish Inquisition. The job of the CDF is to identify heresy, and act on it. This is a lengthy and heavily bureaucratic process revolving around meetings and letter writing. Mgr Patrick Burke gave us a detailed history of how the Congregation came to be in its present form and showed us some 15th century manuscripts of investigations, in the small library that remains in the CDF today, the rest of the collection being housed in the ‘Secret Library’ or the archive under the CDF. We all appreciated Mgr Patrick’s frankness about the most sensitive and challenging issues facing the Church today and were impressed with his directness and unswerving belief in the importance of consistency and truth.

In the Cardinal's Room at the CDF

From the CDF we jumped in taxis and headed to the English College where English seminarians are training in Rome.  Two previous interns, Peter Stoddart and Luke DePulford are currently students there and sat in on our meeting with Associated Press journalist Nicole Winfeld. Nicole is the Vatican correspondent for one of the major global news wires, from where most other news stations get their information. She has been in Rome for 10 years but it neither she nor the Vatican have endeared themselves to one another.

After this particularly disheartening meeting, we were given a tour of the English College by Fr John Paul who is the Pastoral Director there. He then celebrated Mass for us in the larger of the College’s two stunning chapels.

Chapel in the English College

In the afternoon we visited the HQ of Caritas Internationalis. Michel Roy, the Secretary General, spoke to us about his role and the pros and cons of working for a faith organisation in the world of international aid and development.

The first day had been a long one and we were all more than ready for dinner that evening, at which Peter and Luke joined us again to tell us about their experience of Seminary life and of their time as Catholic Parliamentary Interns.

(Photos/ footage to come!)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Night at the Museum

It’s not often that you are greeted at a drinks reception by a security guard saying, “Keep going straight past the big dinosaur for the cloakroom and drinks are being served through the archway by the armadillo...”

But then it isn’t very often you get the chance to sip sauvignon in the grand surroundings of the Natural History Museum after hours.

Natural History Museum in some rare April sunshine

Last night the insurance company Aviva kindly sponsored a dinner for all those who had attended the Earth Debates at the Natural History museum.

The evening kicked off with a drinks reception just off the main hall, with a dissected camel from the current ‘Animal Inside Out’ exhibition keeping an eye on the eclectic assortment of tree-huggers who were gathering to discuss topics such as sustainable development, green cities and food security.

After we had all been randomly assigned to a table for dinner, the BBC’s environment correspondent Richard Black thanked everyone for their support and went over the key points that had arose in the Earth Debates talks.

Richard Black

Next to speak was Steve Waygood, Head of Sustainability Research at Aviva Investors, who told those present about the insurance company’s advocacy work in championing more transparent reporting and management of sustainability risk. 

A five course vegetarian meal was then brought out – not quite as lavish as it might sound as each instalment was served in a tiny bowl. The food, though sparse, was delicious and reflected the need for us to all be eating less meat and to be more creative with vegetarian dishes.

After dinner there was a lively discussion section. Although this part of the evening was interesting it also felt very frustrating as it was essentially ‘preaching to the converted’ and therefore not convincing the people with the power to affect change – i.e government and business leaders.

From the dining room to the board room, what must be brought to the table is a solution to combating climate change that puts the emphasis on sustainable development and shared responsibility, not making the world’s poor pay for our mistakes and helping people to develop in a way that does not undermine the future of our precious planet.

Not the most exciting proposal for ‘Night at the Museum 3’ but crucial to consider nonetheless.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

How will we be ambassadors of Christ?

Bishop John Arnold posed some challenging questions to students in the Veritas group at St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, in Harrow, on Wednesday 18 April.

The Veritas group meet regularly to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith. Bishop John was invited to speak to the group of young people studying for their As Levels on the subject of ‘Faith, the Gospel and Action’.

The talk began with Bishop John sharing some of his experiences of working with CAFOD. He touched on positive initiatives set up in East Timor and Sri Lanka that have improved the lives of thousands of people, but he also spoke of the terrible atrocities being committed in some African states and the need for healing and renewal.

Why is CAFOD there, Bishop John asked? The Catholic development charity have a budget of £55 million this year, the majority of which has been donated by people and parishes. Why are people so generous?

Another example of vital charitable work being carried out from within our diocese is that of the Cardinal Hume Centre, Bishop John highlighted. The homelessness charity has been helping to rehabilitate young people who have fallen on hard times for over 25 years. What is there motivation?

The answer to all of these questions lies in the Gospels, Bishop John said. People who believe in God and in the lessons taught by Jesus feel an innate call to express God’s love for us by helping others. We are all given skills and talents and we should utilise them to help make the world a better place.

Using examples from St Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Bishop John reminded those present that sticking to the rules is often not enough to truly make a difference. Social justice, acting on the teachings of the Gospels, takes courage and commitment in order to be proactive Christians.

A vocation that benefits others is crucial for living happy and meaningful lives. Pursuing a self-interested career is likely to leave us isolated and regretful of decisions made by misguided motivations of money or fame. A vocation that affects others in a positive way, however, is more likely to give us a lasting sense of achievement and value.

And, for us, it all starts now – whether it be providing research for CAFOD policy makers, coordinating the efforts of Catholic charities, supporting MPs in their fundraising and engagements, promoting the work of the diocese’s schools and parishes, or...whatever it is that Matthew does.

Discerning our purpose is key to realising our potential. But are we listening to God’s plan for us, asked Bishop John? Are we open to letting Him lead us in the direction He knows we should be going? How will we be ambassadors for Christ?

Monday, 16 April 2012

BBC London 94.9

Newman House was eerily silent yesterday morning at 6am when my alarm went off, and I staggered to the shower bleary eyed and craving caffeine. Coffee consumed, I set off for Portland Place – fortunately a short walk from Gower Street – and arrived looking fresh faced and enthusiastic having psyched myself up on route for a morning at BBC London 94.9.

I was greeted by Phil, an assistant producer, who showed me up to the studio where I was introduced to Becky, the producer, and Paul, a pastor at a non-conformist church who does a morning news round up every Sunday for the Inspirit programme.

The Inspirit programme deals with ethical issue from the week and so yesterday conversations focussed on the continued viability of horse-racing, the European scientists developing a human brain in a lab and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Becky talked me through the different software programmes they use, how she plans the running order and decides on which callers to put on air, as well as the editing process for when the programme is uploaded to BBC iplayer.

After the programme finished, Becky and I went for breakfast in the BBC canteen. Half way through my Special K as Becky went through the differences between doing the Inspirit programme and Vanessa Feltz’s programme that she works on during the week, legendary DJ Tony Blackburn sat down on the table next to us and tucked into a fry up.

Becky is a one woman show, a whirlwind of energy and ideas. Her first experience of working in radio was at university in Bradford and she continued to be involved in arthouse radio when she moved back to London, never considering it as a real career before being told about a BBC internship.

Returning from breakfast, the offices were suddenly much busier, with lots of people buzzing about and what seemed like hundreds of TVs all switched to various BBC channels. Becky and a couple of colleagues flicked through the Sunday papers and identified a few good stories to pursue for the next day’s programme.

By 11.30, most of the guests for Monday morning had been tracked down and booked in and Becky was satisfied with the cues she’d written for them. I emerged into the bright sunlight feeling content having done nearly a full days work, just as tourists and Londoners where starting to emerge, sitting in cafes nibbling croissants and flicking through the papers, still waking up slowly. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Food for thought

‘Food Security’ – what does it mean and how will the concept come into play over the next 40 years? These questions were at the heart of the Earth Debates talk held in the Natural History Museum’s David Attenborough Studio last night.

Apart from being something the interns have not experienced much of this year, Food Security relates to our ability (or inability) to produce and acquire food. We all know that we produce enough to feed everyone on the planet adequately, so something is going seriously wrong when 2 billion people are still starving.

Not only is food distributed extremely unevenly, problems of wastage, health, climate change and development all play their part in creating the complex problem of achieving Food Security for all.

The panel discussing the ways in which we may be able to feed the world’s rapidly increasing population was made up of leading experts and chaired by BBC environment journalist, Richard Black. Sue Dibb, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, Barry Gardner MP, John Ingram, Food Security Leader, Natural Environment Research Council and Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development made up the panel, all of whom took questions from the audience as well as answering tweets from across the globe.

Apart from all the financing initiatives and potential government policies that were raised, the main consensus centred on changing our expectations. ‘Green diets’ need to be just that, more green - with less red meat and more vegetables and pulses. We need to erode the sense of entitlement people in the West feel they have to eating exactly what they want when they want. If we go to the shops late at night we shouldn’t expect to have the full range of food to choose from, most of which will have to be chucked due to sell-by dates etc.

In another 50 years time will we see steak eaters banished outside restaurant along with smokers  - who also once believed they had the ‘right’ to say exactly what passed their lips?

Thoughtful contributions from the floor and lively discussions over wine and canap├ęs (the irony was not lost) after the debate, in one of London’s most impressive buildings, contributed to an extremely interesting evening.

You can watch the debate online here: 

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Benediction and Dinner with Mgr Armitage

On Tuesday evening, we were hosted by Rt Rev Mgr John Armitage, Vicar General of Brentwood. As Vicar-General, he exercises episcopal jurisdiction on behalf of the Bishop, and is the second-highest ranking cleric in the diocese after Bishop Thomas McMahon. We had previously met Mgr Armitage at a Catholic Voices event, and he is also well known for his work with London Citizens, a community organising alliance supported by figures such as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor and London Mayor Boris Johnson, and knew him to be a man of incredible insight and passion.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was a beautiful way to begin the evening, and a few of us even found ourselves assisting- a first for me, I will admit, having never been inside a cassock before..

Afterwards, we joined Mgr Armitage in the presbytery, and over dinner (which was delicious- it’s all about the pastry) we discussed all manner of issues in the church, and in the community. His parishes in east London is touched by many social and economic problems, and he is a vocal advocate for communities working together to make politicians aware of the problems they face, and the solutions they need. London Voices has campaigned for a ‘London living wage’, has pressed for the employment opportunities of the London Olympics to benefit local people first, and has called on the Government to regularise failed asylum seekers and visa over-stayers proficient in English who are already established and hard-working members of their communities.

London Voices also offer internships and a Summer Academy, as well as being linked with Queen Mary’s Master’s Degree in Community Organising, the first in the world, recognising as the Bishops have done with our own scheme the value of preparing young people with a thorough and practically based awareness of the important issues facing our communities and our world today.

Great conversation, delicious food and good company- Fr John, you’re a gentleman.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Bonnie Greer - Discontent with her identity?

 Earlier this week the interns attended a lecture organised by the 3 Faiths Forum and hosted by Amnesty International.

The lecture, entitled ‘Identity and its discontents’, was given by Bonnie Greer – and boy has she had some identity crises in her time.

Bonnie Greer
In her lecture, Bonnie took the audience through the various stages of her life; from being a working class, black, child to a student activist to a feminist and even gaining British citizenship. 

None of the interns present were quite able to empathise with Bonnie’s identity dilemma. The talk ended up posing more questions than it answered but at least showed how people who had no idea who they are can become pretty successful.

Compared to the political, religious and economical lectures we have attended over the past few months, this talk was by far more abstract.

Bonnie spoke of labels that we give ourselves and how these can sometimes be at odds with the way we are perceived, or labelled, by society. In the past few years we have been schoolchildren, sixth-formers, university students, graduates and now interns. What will be the next label we apply to ourselves? And will it suit us? Watch this space for updates...

As we have all survived the mid-term reviews we are now turning our attention ever more to life after the internship will involve. This requires thinking about who we are now and who we want to become. How we see ourselves at present and we want to be seen by others, say, this time next year. Everyone except Matthew continues to contemplate potential unemployment – a label Bonnie, amongst all her anguish, has apparently never had to deal with.

On a brighter note we have a dinner with Mgr Armitage to look forward to next week and meeting with the applicants for next year’s internship at their interview days later this month. If only they knew what they are letting themselves in for...! 

Congratulations are also in order for Daniel's family and especially his mum as she was baptised last month.