Thursday, 19 January 2012

Olympic Park

One of the first things I see every morning when I wake up is the BT Tower. The 177 meter tall structure has displayed various messages since I moved into the top floor of Newman House – one morning I woke up to see Pudsy the Children In Need mascot peering in, the week before Remembrance Sunday the tower looked as though it was adorned with poppies and fireworks kept exploding around New Year.  Apart from these special occasions the screens on the tower display a countdown to the Olympic Games, which happens to coincide with end of my internship.

So, the Olympics is always on my mind – well once a day anyway – and it was therefore a fantastic opportunity for me to have a tour of the Olympic park today. Such is the nature of this internship that I thought nothing of jumping on the DLR with the Archbishop of Westminster and trundling off to East London to meet a group of priests from the neighbouring diocese of Brentwood.

Plenty of the priests were reminiscing about past sporting achievements at school or uni and challenging each other to 100m sprints as we set off on a bus around the Olympic park.


Less than 200 days to go and the park’s resemblance to a building site is still uncanny. Hundreds of men in high-vis jackets waved as we went past.  The shells of all the major buildings on site are nearly complete. The Velodrom is a beautiful structure and stands in stark contrast to the ‘Copper Box’ which will house the handball tournament and be raized to the ground after the Games due to a lack of interest in the sport in the UK.

The Olympic Village looks like a new university halls complex and is the first of its kind as all athletes regardless of when their event is will be able to stay on site.  The 2012 London Olympics will also be the ‘greenest’ Games yet as the site will be powered by gas and wood-chip burnt as biomass. 800, 000 spectators will travel to the park by public transport and the only car park there is for media trucks and disabled visitors.

Olympic Village

Faith will literally be at the heart of the Olympic park in the Faith Centre that will accommodate five of the world’s main religions. The Christian section has been split in two and as Catholic’s we get our very own space. Twenty-four chaplains will be assigned to work at the Games, providing 24/7 pastoral care to visitors, staff and athletes alike.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols in front of Olympic Stadium

As the park will go into ‘lock-down’ in May until the day before the Opening Ceremony, this was a great time to see it all coming together. Check out the links below to see related Catholic initiatives.

100 Days of Peace:
John Paul 2 Foundation for Sport:

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Moules et Frites

A visit to the European Parliament kicked off the events calendar for 2012, as the interns found themselves in Brussels last week.

After checking in at a very well located hotel near the Place du Luxembourg we took a deep breath and dived into the first meeting of thirteen that would take place before we departed for London the following evening. Although the schedule of meetings was intense everyone we met was extremely accommodating and pleased to talk to us about their work.

The list of people we met with is as long as it is diverse and each one gave us a different insight into the ‘Brussels bubble’.  The institutions of the European Union are often portrayed as vast monoliths, unintelligible to anyone who has not worked there since their inception and who doesn’t speak ten languages. But the reality of working in or with the European Parliament and all of the associated bodies and agencies is quite different, we discovered.

Interns with Gay Mitchell MEP
Gay Mitchell MEP was especially compelling, talking to us about how he reconciles his faith and political work. Mr Jorge Nuno-Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europa, gave us a unique insight into the work of a major NGO working with the EU and Fr Frank Turner SJ shared some radical views about clericalism. Hans-Gert Poettering MEP, who was President of the European Parliament 2007-2009, was one of the most charismatic men we met, his passion for the EU and all he believed it could achieve clearly coming through in the way he spoke about the challenges it both faces and has those it has managed to overcome.

Stephen with Hans-Gert Pottering MEP

Love it or hate it, the EU is here to stay. The people we met showed us that it is the individuals who make up the institutions of the regional body that keep the momentum of positive change going, most of whom are determined to better the lives of those living within the member states.

After a couple of weeks apart it was fantastic to spend some time together as a group. We are very fortunate that visits such as this are included in our internship and can’t wait until the next overseas trip –to Rome in May!