Tuesday, 18 December 2007

What is an Advent Mission??

What is an Advent Mission? Here’s my interpretation… It’s a week when the doors of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Soho are opened wide and dozens of highly energized and inspired Catholic young adults spread through the streets of London to talk to strangers, give gifts, flyers and refreshments to anyone and everyone who passes us. We are no longer shy if we were before, because we are all out of our element, but we do it for the Lord. He is our strength, our inspiration, our energy. When we don’t know what to say to people, He gives us the words or the grace to just listen. We are the humble servants spreading the Gospel of Christ, perhaps just by our smiles and greetings, but hopefully by our invitation to meet Jesus this Christmas. Even if you have a relationship with Him, we remind you to visit and renew that relationship. We may never know how many people we effected, or what might have touched them. Our only aim is to spend all our energy, time, talent and prayers in the work of bringing people to their natural, innate faith and speaking of that desire of faith in terms of Christ and His entrance into this world, which was through Mary our mother and model. I don’t feel that I’m imposing on others, because I honestly believe in the Truth that the Church is guarding and teaching, and it such good news that I would be selfish to keep it to myself. The people on the streets can accept or reject it, but I pray that I can convey it in a way that speaks of its beauty and presence in everyone’s life.

At the end of the week, we all had some amazing stories to share and I think we were all in awe at what the Lord can do when we give ourselves to him completely. Above all, I have met some great students from the Emmanuel School of Missions in Rome and I look forward to seeing them again when my school goes to Rome in March. I know that we all worked so very hard this week, but we had a lot of fun in the process.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Advent Mission I

Thomas,Vanessa and students on the Plane to London...

Last Monday ninteen students from the Emmanuel School of Mission and a host of other guests flew in to join us for a huge week-long Parish mission at St Patrick's.

The mission began on Tuesday, with our first day of evangelisation on the streets.

In the evening the Church was packed with over one hundred homeless people and a very large number of volunteers (including the) for our Open House Christmas Party. We removed the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle and transformed the Church into somthing of a banquet hall!

There was time on Thursday for the students, who came from all over the world, to see some sights.

Advent Mission II - On the Streets

Uriel and Clara Evangelising on Oxford Street

During the day we would take it in turns to go out into the Square and to Oxford Street to talk to people and invite them to the Church. The SPES students had prepared gifts, scripture passages and flyers to give to people.

There had been a lot of careful and thorough planning that had gone on behind the scenes to ensure that things worked smoothly. Five different programmes of activity had been devised and the students, divided into teams names after Missionary Saints, took it in turns to apply themselves to each programme.

The teams out in the streets were working together to combine singing and entertainment with stopping people to talk to them and invite them to the Church. Equally important were the teams inside St Patrick's involved with welcoming, taking people before the Blessed Sacrament and praying with them, and also those in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament themselves, supporting the other teams with their prayers.

Advent Mission III

While out on the streets we were also encouraging peopleto come and participate in our evening events at St Patrick's. These included a Carol concert on Wednesday night and Thursday's 'Evening of Joy', led by the Emmanuel School of Mission students:

Then, on Friday, we took to the streets again for a concert outside the French Church followed by a candle-lit procession back to St Patrick's with an icon of the Madonna and Child:

We sang through the streets of Soho before bringing the icon back to St Pat's, where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.

On Saturday night we had a Street concert outside St Patrick's led by our talented Gospel Choir, followed by a Mercy Evening. The arrival of (literally) hundreds of drunk santas, obviously bored of their pub crawl, presented an interesting oppurtunity for evangelisation.

The prayers of those inside the Church were answered when several of the santas were led inside to pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Walking through the Streets with Our Lady

Our Advent Mission is underway, and life at St Patrick's is busier and crazier than ever. Before all the mission started though, we experienced the relative peace and tranquility of processing through the streets with Our Lady to honour her Immaculate Conception.

We processed from St Patrick's to the French Church, Notre Dame de France, Leicester Square, singing hymns to Mary. It was a beautiful evening, and it seems that people are often very receptive to honouring Our Lady. Some people stopped and crossed themselves in the streets, others paused to listen or were clearly intrigued.

More on the Advent Mission coming soon...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Martyrs Walk

Last Saturday we walked from Tower Hill to Tyburn Convent following the route that Martyrs would have been dragged along as part of the middle stage of being 'Hung, Drawn and Quartered'. A large part of the route is the same as we take in the morning on the bus - so it was a familiar route which we saw in a totally new and different light, as we prayed the Rosary and Stations of the Cross, reflecting on the heroic witness of the English Martyrs. The journey for the martyrs would have ended at Tyburn Tree, where they would have been dismembered. The Tree no longer stands, but a plaque marks the spot. We ended our journey a little further up the road at Tyburn Convent, where a young sister showed us the crypt which has plenty of relics.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Street Evangelisation

Street evangelisation happens every Friday evening for us and will also be a big part of our Advent Mission next week. It is often one of the most challenging forms of outreach that we are faced with at the school - and for some this form of outreach is even controversial.

Here we wanted to just give you a picture of what a typical Friday evening of street evangelisation is like for us and what does and doesn't happen.

The whole evening is rooted in prayer, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed in St Patrick's throughout. We begin the night in adoration and by praying the Sorrowful Mystery of the Lord's Crucifixion; we end the night in adoration and by praying the Glorious Mystery of the Resurrection. We also take it in turns to stay with the Blessed Sacrament throughout the evening to sustain in prayer those who are out on the streets. It is very much an evening of prayer for the conversion of Soho.

We always go out onto the streets in pairs, and since different people have different gifts the approaches that work best for them differ. Some include:
  • Standing on a corner handing out SOS prayerline cards and asking people if they need any prayers said
  • Walking around Soho silently praying the Rosary
  • Walking about the streets engaging people in conversation and telling them about a Saint (like Blessed Mother Teresa) and offering them a Miraculous medal
A main challenge is to remember that we are there to bring Christ to people, but not ourselves or our own 'angles' on life or faith. Success cannot simply be characterised in worldly terms - by the percentage of arguments won or the number of medals given out this week. Instead, success might be simply to soak up some of the anger or sorrow a person needs to get rid of, to speak a word of encouragement, or simply to say a prayer for a person we meet.

We all find that Street Evangelisation is something that challenges us. It's certainly not what I look forward to most in the school week. It is emotionally and physically tiring, there is rejection and even ridicule to contend with. But there are also moments of grace and remarkable receptivity. We have a lot to receive, as well as give, in encountering Christ in the people we meet on the streets.