Real Prayer

Patrick Ward writes…

The smile on Pope Benedict’s face grew and grew as he walked towards the great doors at the front of Westminster Cathedral.

It was the end of a solemn and dignified celebration of Mass.  As he started to leave the sanctuary, the doors opened and a wave of energy enveloped the whole Cathedral.  For outside in the Piazza, two-and-a-half-thousand young people were waiting for him.

Taking their lead from the young people, the congregation burst into a spontaneous round of applause.  This applause, however, was a mere precursor for the cheering, chanting and love that enveloped him as reached the door.  Many commentators say that this pontiff is conservative and staid.  Not on this evidence.  His love for the young people was in just as much evidence as was their love for him.  Memories of John Paul II with the youth in 1982 certainly came flooding back.

Underpinning this embrace, however, was a seriously spiritual message for the young.  This Pope wanted to speak heart to heart with the young people of the nation:

I ask each of you, first and foremost, to look into your own heart. Think of all the love that your heart was made to receive, and all the love it is meant to give. After all, we were made for love. This is what the Bible means when it says that we are made in the image and likeliness of God: we were made to know the God of love, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to find our supreme fulfilment in that divine love that knows no beginning or end.

We were made to receive love, and we have. Every day we should thank God for the love we have already known, for the love that has made us who we are, the love that has shown us what is truly important in life. We need to thank the Lord for the love we have received from our families, our friends, our teachers, and all those people in our lives who have helped us to realise how precious we are, in their eyes and in the eyes of God.

The Pope continued.  The young were respectfully attentive, for these were precious words.  He continued, offering guidance as to how we can experience the Great Love of Christ in our lives using, what he termed “real prayer.”

This is the message I want to share with you today. I ask you to look into your hearts each day to find the source of all true love. Jesus is always there, quietly waiting for us to be still with him and to hear his voice. Deep within your heart, he is calling you to spend time with him in prayer. But this kind of prayer, real prayer, requires discipline; it requires making time for moments of silence every day. Often it means waiting for the Lord to speak. Even amid the “busy-ness” and the stress of our daily lives, we need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true self. And in discovering our true self, we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for the building up of his Church and the redemption of our world.

As he concluded, the Piazza exploded into a burst of cheering and singing.  And Pope Benedict rose to it, buzzing around amongst the young people with him on the steps, chatting, and sharing great mutual affection.

On Thursday, in an attempt to put a negative slant on the visit, one leading newspaper described Pope Benedict as “tired and weak”.  How wrong he has proven those critics.

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Our wonderful Catholic Youth

Paschal Uche greets the Pope

As I write I have just been talking to one of the young people who was in the Piazza this morning at Westminster. She, and hundreds (well, 2000) of others are all having a picnic in Hyde Park before they come into the Arena for the vigil. Fiona is representing her parish in Cockermouth, Cumbria, in the Diocese of Lancaster. She left home yesterday, and texted me from Preston around midnight. I asked her what her impressions were so far and she spoke of her joy and delight at seeing so many young Catholics gathered together from all over the country. Two-thousand is just a figure, but when you see them all gathered together in colour-coded sweatshirts, it is a very impressive sight.

I was so thrilled to hear Paschal Uche speak in front of everyone, as he welcomed the Pope. I cannot do justice to his wonderful words, his seemingly relaxed manner, his enthusiasm for what young people can do for the Church. It was the most uplifting moment of the day, so far, for me, notwithstanding the tremendously inspiring Mass that I had just watched.

Our young people are our greatest treasure. The Pope genuinely seemed reluctant to leave them. I want to get back oustide now, and talk to more of them. Before I do, here are a few of Paschal’s words:

Gathered here today are two and
a half thousand young people representing almost every parish in the country. Like many here I have been
actively involved in the Church serving the elderly in Lourdes and going on retreat. I know that others help in
Confirmation sessions, parish music groups, youth groups, and projects serving those who are disadvantaged.
We are a truly living Church that offers great opportunities for young people to encounter the love of Christ and
share it.
Pope John Paul II said that our faith is a “noble and authentic adventure” and we really want other young people
to experience this. It is our prayer that your visit inspires us to be “saints of the third millennium.”

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Brothers

Psalm 132

This is such a wonderful picture. It reminded me of the words of Psalm 132.

How good and how pleasant it is,

when brothers live in unity!

It is like precious oil upon the head

running down upon the beard,

running down upon Aaron’s beard

upon the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon which falls

on the heights of Sion.

For there the Lord gives his blessing,

life for ever.

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A Headteacher’s view

Heart speaks unto HeartI thought I would share this brief account from the Headteacher of a Richmond Primary School.

Just wanted to let you know about the very exciting day I’ve had.

Met my four children at 7.20 this morning and eventually got into St Mary’s College around 9.45. The security was amazing, the streets were lined with police and we had to go through an airport style security system to get on the site. I nearly did not get in as I was wearing a dress and jacked with jet beads set in metal and kept setting off the alarm. Short of taking off my dress I was not sure how I was going to get in! Finally they decided I was not a rampant terrorist but a mundane Headteacher and let me through. My children and I were part of the welcoming group of about 350 people who stood outside the chapel. We were only about 10 ft away from the Pope both when he got out of the car he travelled from Wimbledon in and when he got in the Pope-mobile. He actually shook hands with many of the Richmond children and even picked up one of the children and kissed his head which was lovely but sadly not any of mine! We then went onto the college field to watch ‘The Big Assembly’ which was great. On his way out of the arena the Pope again came very close to us!

Quite a special day!

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What’s so good about being Catholic? (Part One)

Patrick Ward writes…

“The trouble we have at the moment,” said an old friend of mine I bumped into at St Mary’s in Twickenham today, “is that not enough people are saying what is so good about being a Catholic these days.  We usually only hear the bad and the misrepresented.”

So, I thought, in these few days of the Pope’s historic visit to the UK why not share some thoughts on what is so good about being a Catholic?  Now I don’t want to do this alone.  Surely one of the greatest things about the faith is its… well, it’s catholicism (small ‘c’), its richness, its depth and its breadth.  So if you happen to read this blog and want to share your own ideas on what is so good about being a Catholic, please comment.

But to start you off, I will share three of my own ideas:

  1. Community.  The Catholic faith brings people together.  This might be through the weekly parish gatherings or great events like we are experiencing this week.  I’m not the kind of person who goes to many Catholic gatherings or groups but I can say, hand on heart, that some of the most cherished times of my life have been on group pilgrimages or through attending faith events with others.  Being a Catholic can provide a wonderful sense of community.
  2. Family.  For me, Catholicism has enriched the relationships I have with members of my family.  Through difficult times, the faith and the tradition we share acts like glue which holds us together no matter how much we may want to pull apart.  Our faith gives us a very real experience of grace.  I appreciate that this is not true for all and that family relations can often seem irreparable, but this is very much my personal experience.
  3. Prayer.  How strange and useless prayer must seem to people of no faith.  And yet for me it provides such enormous strength that I wonder how people live without it!  In my late teens / early twenties, I went through something of a prayer-rebellion when the standard prayers – the Our Father’s and the Hail Mary’s – seemed repetitive and nonsensical.  Now, I greatly rely on these prayers, especially the rosary, as a pillar of my prayer-life.  Ah, the arrogance of youth…

So there’s three.  What else is so good about being a Catholic these days?

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Living Life to the Full

Patrick Ward writes…

So Pope Benedict has spoken to the children and young people of England, Scotland and Wales in what one observer called “the most beautiful speech I’ve ever heard him give.”  The theme of The Big Assembly was taken from John 10:10’s scripture passage, “I have come that you may have life, life to the full.”  His message was simple and profound: Know God.  Love God.  Your life will be transformed.

“Once you enter into friendship with God, your life begins to change.”

I spoke to numerous children and young people at the event.  I also spoke to teachers and headteachers.  This message was as much for them as it was for the children.  For Pope Benedict reminded them:

“The presence of religious in Catholic schools is a powerful reminder of the much-discussed Catholic ethos that needs to transform every aspect of school life.  This extends far beyond the self-evident requirement that the content of the teaching should always be in conformity with Church doctrine.  It means that the life of faith needs to be the driving force behind every activity in the school, so that the Church’s mission may be served effectively, and the young people may discover the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others’.”

“This extends far beyond the self-evident requirement that the content of the teaching should always be in conformity with Church doctrine.”  Challenging words for our teachers and headteachers who face many obstacles, whether that be the pressure of school tables or their own personal beliefs.

I met one secondary school headteacher after the event.  He told me how encouraged he had been by the Pope’s words.  Living out this professional life of high ideals, he admitted, certainly brings challenges.  And yet, he said, the spiritual strength he felt from the Pope’s understanding almost moved him to tears.

As we now start a year of Catholic Education (announced by  Bishop Malcolm McMahon today) let us keep our teachers, headteachers and governors in prayer so that they may go “far beyond” the self-evident requirement and provide our children with an experience of their Catholic faith that enables them to “live life to the full.”

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Pater Noster

Blue skies of GlasgowWhen I left Bellahouston last night the crowds, the very happy crowds, were slowly wending their way back to various stations and to their coaches, which had been parked on the (closed) M77. There was a wonderful spirit in the air, as pilgrims called out their thanks to the Police who were everywhere. The mounted Police were allowing children to stroke their horses. Those horses must have been as tired as we were, but they remained calm and still. We were shepherded to Dumbreck station and formed an orderly queue for the train back to Edinburgh Central. I fell into conversation with a group of ladies and asked them how the day had been for them. They were thrilled, and said it had been magical. One of them had been privileged to be a minister of Holy Communion and told me about how the youngsters with the yellow umbrellas had looked after her. It was just one of many incidents that day when young and old were united in joy and praise.

I asked them which of the songs had been their favourite and was surprised, a little, to learn that it was the Pater Noster. I suspect that each group of pilgrims would have a different choice, and one of the great things about the planning of this Mass was the wide range of musical styles, making sure there was something for everyone. The ladies were also very impressed at the quietness of the crowd just before Mass started. People were easily able to move from the cheering, banner-waving exuberance to prayerful expectancy and reverence.

The next stage of my journey was the train from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh. Here I found myself sitting next to a BBC cameraman, who had been working on a programme for the World Service, to be broadcast in Arabic for the Maronite community. This man, who was a veteran of the last Papal visit, told me he thought the crowd today had been a good deal larger than forecast. He used a curious way to estimate the size of the crowd, by comparing it with a maximum capacity Manchester United crowd. Using this measure, he estimated the crowd as 75,000. After so much gloomy talk of ‘unsold tickets’ it seems that the prophets of doom were wrong.

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London Calling

Patrick Ward writes…

Yesterday, I took a walk through the centre of London along part of the route that the Popemobile will travel and preparations were well underway.  Barriers in place, podiums for the world’s press set up and an unusually high number of men in dog-collars walking around…

I wonder what the average Londoner makes of this?  [There is, of course, no average Londoner.  London is one of the most multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, diverse cities in the world; a melting pot of people from every corner of the world comprising of different cultures, beliefs and sensibilities.]

However, at around 5pm today, when workers leave their offices and head for the tube (or the pub), Londoners in proximity of the Popemobile route may witness extraordinary scenes.

The way some of the press report this visit, you might think that the streets will be packed with protestors and lobbyists.  Don’t believe a word of it.  That is simply not true.  The streets of London will be lined with thousands of people who feel a part of this visit or who, at least, want to feel a part of it.  It will provide a uniquely comforting sense of community.

In recent days, I’ve had many conversations with people about religion and the Catholic faith.  Many of these people would label themselves as atheist or agnostic or just not-normally-caring-very-much-about-religion.  And yet there is a wonderful openness to engage in dialogue about what faith means to them and to others.  The media headlines certainly don’t reflect this deeply human reality.

So if you’re near London this afternoon, come and join us.  You’re not going to feel like you are odd, weird or extreme.

In fact, you might feel like you are returning to a place you used to know and love so well.

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Christ be near at either hand

Offertory

I wonder how many hours the liturgists spent pouring over their books to decide the music for this Mass. Liturgy is a strange thing, and things you think might work don’t always come together whereas something that was not expected to take a high-profile position somehow touches the heart and soul of those assembled. For me it was the Offertory song, entitled a Celtic Invocation, a paraphrase of the hymn I know as St Patrick’s Breastplate.

Christ be near at either hand,

Christ behind, before me stand.

Christ with me where-e’er I go.

Christ around, above, below.

The plain words and simple Celtic melody wove a spell in the evening sunshine here in Glasgow. I was fortunate in being able to sit with a group of schoolchildren from St Andrew’s School, Kirkcaldy. They were still cheerful, in spite of the fact that they had been originally allocated to Zone 1, and were then moved from there because more wheelchairs arrived than expected. I am delighted that the pilgrims in wheelchairs were so numerous, and were not put off by the lengthy wait in the park. Meanwhile the youngsters were eager to talk the the Media, and several of the children gave interviews to various TV camera-crew from around the world, much to their teachers’ amusement.

An honour for some of those youngsters was that they were able to carry the Yellow umbrellas that were used to mark the positions for the distribution of Holy Communion. I did not envy them when they had to take off their anoraks, in order to show their school uniform beneath. Although it was marvellous sunshine, it was also extremely cold out there.

I will leave it to others to comment on the text of the Pope’s  homily. Similarly I need time to digest the text of his speech to the Queen and her speech to him, copies of which I received earlier.

The crowds are cheering now, waving their flags and singing their hearts out. Earlier they sang the Te Deum to the tune of Ode to Joy, a song I always associate with  Beethoven’s 9th. I heard that the Holy Father likes Mozart, but lets hope he likes Beethoven too. Later Susan Boyle returns, and sings Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. This is the song she sings for the Pope and my prayer is that he will, indeed be, a channel of Christ’s peace to all of us here in the United Kindom during this visit.

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I dreamed a dream

Susan Boyle at Bellahouston

The sun is still shining here in Bellahouston Park. There have been a number of wonderful songs performed by groups from all over Scotland. I have been taught the songs for the responses at Mass. I have marvelled at the weather and the ground coverings that have made it possible to walk on the soft ground. Until a little while ago it felt like an ordinary secular festival in some ways. I wondered when I would feel that sense that something very special was about to happen. And then Susan Boyle started to sing I Dreamed a Dream and the atmosphere changed in a few seconds. Whatever people say about her, she knows how to perform to an audience. She brought everyone to their feet, waving their flags like mad and cheering for more.

A large number of journalists pours into the Media tent as I write. Something tells me things are about to get busy and it is just as well I have grabbed myself a seat. The pipers are playing a tune I recognise, but can’t quite place. Is it Highland Cathedral I wonder? Further research is needed. Ah, now they are singing How Lovely on the Mountains, an old favourite from the 1982 visit.

We are now being taken through a lot of great hymns and  the journalists are fighting for space in the Media tent. There is still space in the Park for Pilgrims but it is healthily full I would say and a wonderful sight when all the flags start to wave. A choir are singing City of God which is one of my favourites. I must go and listen. More later.

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