Friday, 30 March 2007

Please Join Us for Holy Week

All are very welcome to join us for the events here at the parish during Holy Week. They are as follows:

Wednesday 4th April
5:00PM Stations of the Cross

Maundy Thursday
8:00PM Mass of the Lord's Supper
9:00PM-11:00PM Garden of Gethsemane - Waiting at the Alter of Repose

Good Friday
10:30AM Stations of the Cross through the Streets of Soho
3:00PM The Passion
6:00PM Showing of Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' in the Parish Room

Holy Saturday
9:00PM Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday
11:00AM Holy Mass

All are very welcome to all events and we hope to see you there. Do say hello if you join us!

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Student profile: Henry Whisenant

As the administrator of the blog I have complete control over what is attributed to me, and I get to choose a decent picture which is great!

'I came to SPES already being a stranger in a strange land, coming originally from Texas but moving to England with my family when I was 12. Having just finished studying Literature at University of Durham last year, I heard about SPES, checked out the website, went to an open day and here I am!It seemed to me the perfect way to learn the teachings of the Catechism thoroughly, while at the same time building a daily prayer life and being part of the wider, missionary Church that is so desperately needed in London. I thought a year out spent in this way might also give me time to discern my future path.

During the year I have increasingly appreciated the evangelical aspect of the School, from the Theology of the Body talks on Friday night, to the Nativity Play organised by the Friars of the Renewal before Christmas, to the missions and street evangelisation sessions we have taken part in. For me it is important that we pass the joy of being Catholic on to other people, and I have learned that even Catholics (myself included) need to relearn this joy!

Living in community is a great gift and also a great challenge for me. Hardships crop up time and time again, from clashes over music and how we pray, to long-drawn out discussions about our schedule, to reminders about basic things like punctuality and washing up. But in these I feel like God is stretching me and teaching me that community is not about giving what we have to spare, but giving in times of weakness from my own weakness. I have a lot of fun as well, and as the course draws to a close I realise more and more how much I appreciate the people I spend my time with. You know that you have begun to know one another in community when people buy you socks for your birthday because they've noticed that your own have holes in them!

I know also that I will carry the generosity of the people who live in St. Patrick's with me for years to come. I am deeply grateful to them, and to Fr. Alex, for giving me the opportunity to participate in the life of the parish. May they be rewarded with hundreds of SPES students yet.'

Monday, 26 March 2007

Thou shalt not procrastinate

These last few days we've been busy panicking about our essays due today and finding distractions to keep us from doing them.The essays, the fifth out of six during the year, are on the Ten Commandments. 'If you were God which commandment would you leave out and why?' No, not really... We are writing on how the commandments place negative restrictions on deeds which weaken love, while at the same time promoting virtues which lead to love of God, neighbour and self. I got the idea for my essay from Fr. Stephen Langridge who talked to us about Evangelium Vitae, perfect for illustrating how the 5th commandment both prohibits the deliberate killing of innocent life while at the same time promoting a culture of life based on charity and justice. Cheers Fr. Stephen! This last week we also had a lecture from Fr. Angelus of the Friars of the Renewal on 'Spiritual Warfare', and our Catechism lecturer Fr. Francis Selman gave us a break and told us about the paintings in the Sistine chapel, as well as running through the liturgy of the Mass with us. On Friday we led Stations of the Cross for the final time, and then heard a wonderful Theology of the Body talk from Jane Deegan, a mother of three, on the spiritual battle in the sexual life of married couples. She illustrated some of her points using the story of a married couple she knew; the woman had been sexually abused and the man had been addicted to pornography, and though both were married in the Church they struggled for many years with the past, unable to fully give themselves in love and falling into their previous fears and addictions. It wasn't until the wife started praying for her husband, and then some time later the husband for his wife, that they began to realise true and unselfish love for one another. One question that Fr. Alex put to Jane and which no one seemed able to answer adequately was the question how do we convince non-Christians and even many Christians that sacramental marriage is superior to merely cohabitating with the promise to remain faithful to one another? Any answers you could send would be appreciated. On Saturday was Rachel's birthday. Rachel was a student of SPES last year, and now helps Fr. Alex as pastoral assistant, running Theology of the Body among many other things and generally qualifying for martyrdom. May she qualify for many years yet. Tonight we had the opportunity of eating dinner with some of the members of the Gospel choir that sing for 5.00 Mass. Led by Miko, the choir was originally invited by Fr. Alex to lead the music of the Mass in an attempt to bring young people to the Church, and now there is a fair number that come every week. It's not hard to see why. When we sang night prayer after dinner the choir members improvised a beautiful harmonized version of the opening hymn 'Now thank we all our God' that was undoubtedly a Gospel rendition yet with all the reverent awe of the traditional Lutheran original. Okay, back to the essay.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Rome: Take 2

Here's the belated second write-up on our trip to Rome. Hey, I've got a schedule to obey and a computer to share...

Saturday 10th

We were up at the crack of dawn to go to Subiaco for Fr. Alex's day trip away from Rome. It's the place where St. Benedict began his monastic life, living 3 years in a cave on bread and water. Now there is a Benedictine monastery there. A truly incredible situation guaranteed to increase anyone's disposition to holiness I should think... We celebrated Mass in one of the chapels in the monastery, and saw all the beautiful medieval frescoes on the walls (which are apparently scarce in Italy). There was a portrait of St. Francis of Assisi which is probably an accurate likeness, because he visited the monastery and because the portrait does not show the stigmata so was obviously done while St. Francis was still alive. There is a beautiful tradition that St. Francis saw the thorn bush which St. Benedict jumped in to rid himself of temptations of the flesh. St. Francis planted roses among the thorns, and they still grow to this day.

Sunday 11th

On Sunday we saw Papa Benedetto at the Angelus in St. Peter's Square. And he mentioned us! Here's the extract of his English address:

To all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims here today, I extend affectionate greetings. In particular I welcome the Board of Trustees and administration of Saint John’s University, New York, the students and teachers from All Saints Catholic High School in Kanata, Ontario, and the young people from Saint Patrick’s Evangelisation School in London. Upon all who are here today, and upon your families and loved ones at home, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

So the School is now officially sanctioned by the Pope... As a result of that mention, we met a student from the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome - E. S. M. is sort of what Fr. Alex based SPES on, a year of spiritual and academic formation as well as outreach and community life. We met up with four students in the afternoon at St. Paul's Outside the Walls and had time to ask them about what they do and how it compares with SPES. Sounds like they're pretty skint for free time as well - they actually sacrificed their semi-free Sunday to meet us at the last minute, which was very generous if not crazy of them! It was rejuvenating to meet other young people like us who are seeking to grow in their faith and bring it to others, and we are reminded that as much as it seems sometimes in Soho, we are not alone.

Monday 12th

In the morning we went to the last of the major basilicas, St. John Lateran's, which is the Pope's cathedral. There are relics of Peter and Paul's heads here. Then we did the Scalla Santa. These are traditionally the steps from Jerusalem, brought to Rome by St. Helena, upon which Jesus would have walked when he was scourged at his trial. You go up these steps on your knees, saying a prayer on each step, which is a good penance because the wood that covers the original steps really hurts! In some places there is a piece of glass in the wood to reveal where a drop of Christ's blood is believed to have fallen on the marble. Another part of the penance is that everyone goes at different speeds; we had some older Italian ladies weave their way between us, making a break for it whenever we opened a gap. It's a lot like their driving actually...

For lunch we met His Eminence Cardinal Pell of Sydney, who took us to Da Roberto's near the Vatican. Fr. Alex says he tried to dissuade him, but the Cardinal insisted: 'I know how you treat those young people, rationing them on bread and water...' We had some interesting conversations about World Youth Day in Sydney, the new translations of the English Mass which Cardinal Pell is working on (nothing top secret I'm afraid), and Christianity in the modern culture. The Cardinal was going to give a talk the next day to students of the University of Dallas on the challenges of being a Christian today. 'What should I say to them?' he asked us. LOL. For himself he said one challenge to Christianity was mistaken notions of conscience, specifically that people do what they like and then say a little prayer on their own and think everything's alright. Fr. Alex and Cardinal Pell lost us though when they started talking about cricket. I suspect Fr. Alex has to bottle it all in until he sees the Cardinal as none of us have the slightest clue.

In the afternoon we met another Australian, James the seminarian again, who gave us a tour this time of the North American College where the American and Australian seminarians study. It was immediately different to the English College, most of all in size. They have around 170 students there at the moment, 220 people including staff and sabbatical residents. One of the feathers in their cap is the bowling alley which was donated by Pope John XXIII, who himself had received it as a gift and naturally enough had neither the time nor the inclination to use it. The seminary also has one of the best views of Rome:

The third from the left in the picture is Mark, an American seminarian who came with James to stay in St. Patrick's during Christmas. Both are not far off ordination to the diaconate, so keep them in your prayers.

Tuesday 13th

Last day of the pilgrimage. In the morning we celebrated Mass at St. Gregory's and saw the papal chair of St. Gregory the Great. 'So guys, what do you think,' the Padre is saying, 'Wouldn't this chair go nicely in the presbytery?'

We then said hello to the Sisters of Charity next door and saw the room where Mother Theresa slept when she was in Rome. Afterwards we went our ways to spend the day as we pleased. Some of us went in search of good coffee. Some of us went in search of good gelatti. Most of us went to the tomb of John Paul II, and most of us got over to San Maria Sopra Miverva where St. Catherine of Sienna and Fra Angelico are buried. It was a good finish to a very packed and rewarding pilgrimage. We came back on a late plane dead tired but feeling very privileged to have had Fr. Alex shepherd us around the historical fold of the Church. Grazie Padre!

Monday, 19 March 2007

Student Profile: Susie Filkorn

This is the first post in what will be a regular feature, introducing each of us to you so that you've got some idea of how we came to the school and how we're finding it. Susie is the youngest person in our group, and Fr. Alex is fond of reminding us that in a monastic community the youngest person is always the first to express their opinions to the abbot in a meeting. So without further ado...

'I am Susie Filkorn, age 21, from Germany. I came to SPES through Youth 2000 who told me about it. The first term was really difficult for me - first time away from home and getting used to a very different, packed schedule. But since those first days, when I left everything up to God (for I realised really everything is up to Him), so much has changed for me.
That God has led me here is for sure one of the greatest graces He has given to me. I experience the days offering the change of life each in different ways. God has enriched my life more than I ever could have imagined. It is so amazing to see what happens when we take one little step towards God and how He does all the rest. St. Patrick's is full of life. It is a wonderful place to learn to live a life alive!'

Happy St. Joseph's Day

We were lucky enough to have Mass celebrated at the St. Joseph altar in the church!

We also had a sound talk today from Fr. Stephen Langridge, legendary parish priest of Holy Ghost, Balham. He talked to us about Evangelium Vitae and Pope John Paul II's infallible ruling on the immorality of taking innocent life, as well as how this plays out in issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and so on.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Ealing Abbey

Our talk at Ealing Abbey went much better than we anticipated, especially as we were still planning what to say a few hours before. We were speaking to 97 young people, all of whom will be confirmed by the Cardinal after Easter. A few of us spoke briefly about different aspects that are relevant to our lives as Catholics and to their lives at this age, such as relationship, vocation and family. The kids were an attentive lot, and when Bishop Alan Hopes came halfway through he also drew a bit on what we said. After talks and a decade of the rosary we had Mass in the abbey church.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

St. Patrick's Day

Three Cheers fer ole Sain Pahrick! Last night Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, Cork born and bred, came from his diocese of Lancaster to celebrate the St. Patrick's vigil Mass in our parish, and was met with quite a turnout, not least the eight other priests who concelebrated. It seems to have become quite a tradition in the parish, especially as shamrock is blessed and distributed after the Mass, and the hymns are nostalgically Irish:

On Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys
Look down in thy love.

After Mass we had a buffet in the parish room in which some slightly dubious characters managed to slip in...

St. Patrick was born at the end of the 4th century and taken into captivity in Ireland where he tended his master's sheep and learned the love of God through spending his time alone praying. He later became bishop of Ireland and converted the pagans to Christanity. Tradition has it that he explained the concept of the Trinity to them using a shamrock: one branch for one God, three leaves for three persons. We students did the same today, as after silent Rosary around the square and then Mass, we went in groups to give out blessed shamrocks to those in and around the square. Many parishioners and locals knew something about St. Patrick and the shamrock. We had some good conversations amongst us, especially with lapsed Irish Catholics.

In the evening we went to a St. Patrick's night in St. Mary and St. Michael's parish where some of us live - the parish is and always has been one with a large Irish presence. We had great fun dancing, keeping in mind that tomorrow we're going to talk to a group of schoolkids at Ealing Abbey. Keep us in your prayers!

Friday, 16 March 2007

Well, we're back again from the land of apostles. We've had such an incredible pilgrimage and seen so much that it will take some time to digest it all. Fr. Alex was a valuable treasury of information about Rome, and he saved us a lot of wandering around wondering what everything meant and how it was all connected. We were also fortunate to have many people involved in the week. Pauline, who helps the School in many ways, came to join us. Here's a day by day account of what we did:

Wednesday 7th

2.30 am - started our godly trip at an ungodly hour. Went to pick up the Padre and drive to Stanstead for a 6.00 am flight.

Having arrived to Ciampino we went to the Carmel at Sassone where we were staying. The staff there were amazing, especially Fr. Nemo who - as Vincent pointed out - was a priest, a cook and a receptionist all rolled into one! In the afternoon we went into Rome, and visited San Maria Maggiore, the Basilica which was dedicated to Mary the Mother of God in the 5th century, and which is built on the location where traditionally Mary caused snow to fall in midsummer. The Basilica has a relic of the Manger from Bethlehem. Then in the evening we went for Mass and dinner to the English College, where 20-something seminarians from England and Wales are training for the priesthood. They were very hospitable and gave us a tour of the college, including the upper section of the main church where many English martyrs are depicted at their execution. A pause for thought for these seminarians and for us who live in a time when we are relatively free to practice our faith...

Thursday 8th

In the morning we passed by Quo Vadis Church, traditionally the site where St. Peter, who was fleeing Rome during a time of government persecution, had a vision of Christ. Seeing Christ walking the opposite way into the city, St. Peter asked 'Quo vadis? (where are you going?)', to which Christ replied, 'I am going to be crucified again.' At this St. Peter took courage and went back to Rome. We then had a tour of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus where some 2,000 martyrs were buried and some 3,000 Christians. Fr. Alex celebrated Mass for our intentions in one of the chapels there. Then on to the Vatican Museums where we craned our necks back in the Sistine Chapel.

Friday 9th

Today was the most important day for many of us. In the morning we had a tour of the Scavi, the excavated site underneath St. Peter's. What we saw there was a Necropolis ('city of the dead') where the Romans used to build mausoleums for their beloved deceased, this whole area being just outside of Rome. We saw many of these mausoleums, richly decorated with patterns and mythological stories on the inside, and in most of them a staircase would have taken the family from the tombs of their deceased to an upper balcony where they could overlook the whole necropolis and share a 'meal of the dead'. This site was also a place where Christians who died in the circus were buried - after the fire of Rome Emperor Nero appeased the population by persecuting Christians at his private circus where the Vatican now exists. Such was the fate of St. Peter, whose tomb became a shrine and was later elaborated upon by Constantine, who built the original basilica on that site. However, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that anyone was able to verify if St. Peter was actually buried there. At first it seemed not because there were no traces of him in the tomb of the shrine, but in a tomb above the shrine bones were found of a man in his 50's or 60's, who had been buried in the shrine previously, and who had no feet to be found - when St. Peter was crucified upside down they would have taken his body off of the cross by simply cutting his feet off at the top and burying the rest of him. We were able to see bones of St. Peter, something very humbling for us, because as Fr. Alex says it was through the seeds of martyrdom that the Church came into being. Looking at St. Peter's bones takes us back through 2,000 years of ordinary men and women giving account of the extraordinary hope that is within them.
In the afternoon we had an excellent tour of St. Peter's itself from James McCarthy, one of the Australian seminarians at the North American College (he came and stayed with us for Christmas). He told us everything from how there were no painting in the basilica - only moscaics - to how the top section of St. Peter's facade was added on to satisfy the proportions of the building and the square - so that's why you can't see the dome properly! He also pointed out the place where Pope John Paul II was shot, now marked by a little plaque:

A stone's throw from St. Peter's is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which is overseen by Cardinal Levada and which protects the teaching of the Church. Fr. Patrick Burke showed us the library, the little pink room where the head of the CDF meets bishops etc. to discuss particular cases where the faith has been attacked, and the meeting room where cardinals and priests make decisions among themselves concerning individual cases. 'People have this ridiculous notion that we excommunicate people left right and centre,' said Fr. Pat, 'It's a load of rubbish. If someone's work is publicly denounced, it means we've come to that as an absolutely last resort, mulling over the case, dialoguing with the author in question, talking to his superior or bishop, making sure first that what he says really can't be read as Church teaching, and all this takes as long as ten or twelve years.' Well, the Church is slow but sure.

I'll write up the rest of our trip when I get a chance...

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Off to Rome

In four hours we will be on our way to Rome, where we will be on pilgrimage with Fr. Alex for a week. He was at the English College for his seminary studies, so hopefully he'll show us all his old haunts. I'll write it all up when we get back. Until then, have a siesta!


Last night Mandy cooked our long-anticipated Chinese meal, just in time for the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. There was quite a spread, with sesame seeds, spring rolls, dumplings, noodles - the lot. And chopsticks ('kuai-zi', sounds like Quietzu!) to help us along... sort of...

Mandy invited Fr. Thomas (Thomas Shen Fu) from Allen Hall to join us as a fellow Chinese host. Unfortunately he forgot to bring the atmospheric music, so we made him sing a national song with Mandy. He told us the biggest difference between Chinese people and Westerners is that the Chinese, despite the one-child policy, are very much family oriented. Young married couples have a duty to care for both sets of parents, and there is a greater bond between generations in the family. One does not see that much in London.

Mandy also gave us all a personal card, but as it's written in Chinese it's still a bit of a mystery to us! She said she'll translate it if we visit her in China one day, so we'll have to start booking the flights.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Parish Day

Off we went to Roehampton today for the annual St. Patrick's parish day! We went to a convent of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, an order begun by Mother Mary Magdalen Taylor for fallen women in Soho (her tomb was in the chapel). Sister Dymphna who is part of the parish team at St. Patrick's and a friend of the students is a sister of this order, hence the connection. Here are some of the resident parishioners of St. Patrick's - well, actually, most of them...

The day included two talks by Fr. Chris Connor on Prayer and the Mass. Fr. Chris has given us a lecture before, and his talks today brought back the theme of the Old Testament foreshadowing the New Testament which we remembered from all those months ago... What I hadn't remembered was that the Eucharist is a continuation of the todah sacrifice in the Old Testament - a sacrifice of thanksgiving which was foretold to be the only remaining sacrifice that would still be here after a significant intervention of God in human history (the Incarnation). Whew! While he talked to us, Vincent and Angela helped two girls in the parish prepare the children for their first confession. The children made these during Adoration, and received a certificate after Mass as well as a blessing for their rosaries which they had made in the morning. On the whole the children were pretty eager for blessings!


Today we had some of the Allen Hall seminarians to lunch and gave them a tour of our digs in the basement. The four who came were Neil, Dominic, Andrew and Rev. Richard, the last of whom will be ordained this summer. The last time we saw Neil and Dominic at Allen Hall they had broken limbs, and we decided seminary was perhaps more dangerous than we realised! They were happy to tell us how they came to seminary and also about what they did, from their studies and daily routine to the pilgrimages they had been on, not forgetting to mention of course the mighty football team they have at Allen Hall! The SPES students used to live in the seminary but this year there were so many new seminarians that they no longer had any room for us there (making it roughly 24 seminarians there now).

Fr. Mark's Theology of the Body talk this evening showed how the vocation to celibacy and the vocation to married life are in reality aiming for the same goal, which is our marriage in Christ when we get to heaven. So these four seminarians by their celibacy are signs of how we will be before God.

After the talk Fr. Mark showed us a promotional video for World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. It is a chance for young people from all over the world to witness to their faith and be with the Pope in an amazing country. What are you doing in August 2008?

Friday, 2 March 2007

Door to door in Whitechapel

Yesterday we did a Lenten mission for St. Anne's parish in Whitechapel where some of us live. The parish has a large Brazilian community there now, both the priests being Brazilian as well. Fr. Osvaldo asked us to go around to the houses of parishioners in the area and give them information about the Mass times and invite them to the parish particularly in this time of Lent (assuming that some of them do not come regularly already). Before going out Wadim, our team leader, suggested that if we were invited then we should go into the parishioners' houses and chat with them. Angela and Iwona objected, feeling it would be unsafe to do so, so we left it up to each pair. It turns out that hardly any of us got a chance to talk with the parishioners, except for Angela and Iwona, who got invited into the very first house they went to and talked to almost everyone whose house they visited! Susie, Wadim and I stopped in the London Buddhist Centre on our way to one of the houses to chat and we left a prayer card with them. Whitechapel is such a diverse area, with Victorian terraced housing a stone's throw away from very basic council flats. And of course there is a large Muslim community there. I think we have more in common with the Muslims than the Buddhists... The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.