The departure of Cyprian Blamires and William Johnstone means that the Society is now without area organisers. Their principal role was to travel the length and breadth of the country making appeals on our behalf in parishes. Appeals are not just about raising money. Appeals are about presenting a human face and engaging with parish priests and their parishioners. The importance of appeals cannot be underestimated. They are our principal point of contact with the wider Church.

For the time being I have taken responsibility for all the appeals myself and it has been an exciting experience to suddenly find myself on the road each weekend, often making long journeys as the Society’s ambassador. Recently I have visited Blackpool, Skegness, Leeds, Plymouth, Manchester and Leicester. In each place I have been received with great kindness. I am deeply grateful to the priests who have offered me a bed for the night and allowed me to celebrate Mass and preach in their churches. And I am equally grateful to their parishioners who have listened so patiently and responded so generously to my request for their support. Often at the door of the church after Mass someone will come up to me and say “I was really interested to hear what you had to say because I am a convert myself” and I am always fascinated to hear the story of their own conversion journey. I have spoken about our forthcoming move to the edge of Littlemore and asked for their prayers as it happens. Many of them have immediately recognised the value of the special connection we shall now have with Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Dominic Barberi and the most important conversion story of modern times. These visits have helped to recruit many more friends for the St Barnabas Society and as such expand the nationwide network of support for us which already exists. And as I visit these parishes and meet people I am all too aware that I am now building upon the work which has been faithfully done by the Society’s organisers in the past. They are still remembered and fondly spoken of. Not only is that touching but it is hugely important. What they have achieved through their own visits has provided firm foundations for the work that now lies ahead.

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Something made me read again the beautiful homily Emeritus Pope Benedict gave at Cofton Park in Birmingham on 19th September 2010 for the beatification of Cardinal Newman. In it the Holy Father referred to one of Newman’s better-known meditations entitled “God has created me for some definite service.” Pope Benedict said:

“He (Newman) tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a ‘definite service’, committed uniquely to every single person: ‘I have my mission’ he wrote, ‘I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place…if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.’” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2)

May those words remind us of the “bond of connection” between the Society and our supporters which is so crucial to our work. As the Society’s Director I am all too aware that “I have my mission” but so do all the other people upon whom the Society depends – employees and friends. Each individual is “a link in a chain.” Thank you - all of you - for what you do for us and please keep up the good work!

  The chapel at Littlemore

The chapel at Littlemore

The July meeting of the Trustees of the St Barnabas Society took place within the beautiful setting of The College at Littlemore, on the south east side of Oxford. It is lovingly cared for by The Sisters of The Society of The Work and serves as the International Centre of Newman Friends. It was the home of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman from 1842-1846 and the place where he was received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church by the Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi, on 9th October 1845.

Most of our Trustees had never visited The College before and some knew very little about the story of Newman’s conversion. It was a very moving experience to be able to celebrate Mass in the chapel of The College which had once been Newman’s oratory and is the place where Blessed Dominic received him. We were then able to move on to the place that had once been Newman’s library for the meeting itself. We were surrounded by Newman memorabilia as we discussed the support we give to our beneficiaries and the everyday work of the Society so that too was a very touching experience. It was a very happy and fruitful day and one which we hope will be repeated many times in the future.

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This meeting had a special significance because the Trustees have decided to move the Society Headquarters from its present location at Wolvercote to the outskirts of Littlemore. It will happen during August and The College will be within walking distance of our new home. More information about the move and our new location will follow shortly but in the meantime we need all our supporters and friends to keep the St Barnabas Society close to their hearts and to make a special point of praying for us each day. The move is a leap of faith but it will give us a wonderful opportunity to connect with Newman’s conversion story in a way that has not been previously possible and hopefully to play a part – albeit a small one – in the movement which is now pressing for his canonisation and that of Blessed Dominic.

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Newman wrote of Littlemore: “There it has been that I have both been taught my way and received an answer to my prayers.” May the same be true for the St Barnabas Society as we prepare for this new and exciting chapter. Through the intercession of St Barnabas and St Paul, Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi, may the “Kindly Light” to whom Newman turned and who is God Himself lead the Society forward in faith and help us to embrace the many challenges and opportunities that this move will inevitably place in our way.

“Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me.”

 

If it seems that this year’s London Event has come around rather more quickly than usual…it has! This year we are celebrating it on the actual feast day of St Barnabas the Apostle (June 11th) and I hope this will now become an annual tradition whenever it is possible.

The London Event reminds us that the St Barnabas Society is a family. There are those of us who work for the Society at its headquarters in Wolvercote. There are those who serve voluntarily as the Society’s trustees. There are those who are members of the Society and faithfully receive our literature and contribute to its work. There are many others who express an interest in our work and who then give generously to support it. And finally there are our beneficiaries – the principal reason why the Society exists – who, having made the courageous decision to embrace the Catholic faith, often at great personal cost to themselves, rely heavily upon the financial support we are able to offer to them, without which their lives would be an even greater uphill struggle than they are already. So it is important that there is at least one opportunity during the Church’s Year when we can gather together as a family to give thanks to God for the work of the St Barnabas Society, to forge new friendships simply by being together for a few hours, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the work that lies ahead.

The work that lies ahead will be both challenging and exciting as will become clear in time. So I do encourage all of you to make a special effort this year (if it is at all possible) to join us next Monday (June 11th) at 6.30pm at Our Lady of Victories Church, Kensington High Street, in London, for the Solemn Pontifical Mass at which Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham will preside, and the reception afterwards. We all live busy lives and it can be very difficult to make time for everything that is asked of us but your presence at this Mass is so important to the Society and for its work. If you are able to be there we shall be delighted to welcome you. Please try your very best.

In her contribution to the book “The Path to Rome”, which many of you will have read, Ann Widdecombe writes:

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“Each (person’s) path to Rome is different. Some paths are straight, others wind and occasionally disappear altogether. Some are lonely, some are crowded. Some are clear, some are brambly. Many are steep. Mine was, but there comes a time when the incline is downwards and the journey gains an almost precipitous momentum.

‘Quo vadis?’ one hears. There can only be one reply. To Rome.”

May we all find inspiration in the truth of those words as we prepare for the celebration of this year’s London Event and may we rejoice together that God has chosen to call us into the fold of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

 Our Lady of Victories, High St Kensington

Our Lady of Victories, High St Kensington

Fr Paul shares a story about a recent evening with Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP

For a long time now I have been an admirer of the writings of Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master of the Dominican Order. In fact when I was parish priest of Bicester and later Caversham I forbade my parishioners to buy his books because if they did they would quickly discover where I got all my homily material from! When I met Fr Timothy recently at the home of the Chilson family (who are beneficiaries of our Society) and told him about this he playfully threatened to sue for loss of earnings! But I, for one, will continue to buy anything he chooses to publish because he is always well worth reading. His travels around the world have given him so much knowledge of human society and of the Church’s mission in so many different places and situations and his books are full of these experiences. In fact he is about to publish a new book so watch out for it and buy it! As I am no longer a parish priest I am no longer so dependent upon Fr Timothy for material for my homilies!

Over a delightful kitchen supper in the Chilsons’ family home I asked Fr Timothy if he had ever written anything on the subject of“conversion” and he didn’t think he had. So, of course, I asked him if he would think about writing something on this subject for the St Barnabas Society and he told me that when the book is published and he has completed the lecture tours of Australia and Germany which lie immediately ahead he would think about it. It would certainly be a great privilege for us if he agrees.

While I was parish priest of Caversham I briefly served as Area Dean of Oxford South and during that time our Deanery received a visitation from Archbishop Bernard Longley and Bishop William Kenney. At the opening meeting of the visitation in Henley-on-Thames I was expected to say a few words and initially I wasn’t quite sure what to say. And then I received some heaven-sent inspiration from Fr Timothy’s lovely book Why go to Church? In a chapter entitled “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” he makes reference to a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry “where Bishop Odo can be seen poking a soldier in the backside with a spear, forcing him into the fray. The inscription reads ‘Odo comforteth his men.’” There in a nutshell, I said, is what a Deanery Visitation is all about. The Archbishop and his Auxiliary have come to comfort their men!

In another chapter in that same book Fr Timothy has this to say.

“…our faith is not primarily the assent to facts about God but friendship with God. This man Jesus offers us more than words about God, spiritual insight. He did not come to promote values. He did not come to tell us about God’s friendship for us. He is God’s friendship with us made flesh and blood.”

As we continue our journey through Eastertide and prepare to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost let us grasp for ourselves that monumental truth. Jesus Christ “is God’s friendship with us made flesh and blood.”

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Fr Paul shares a thought on his Holy Week experience.

The Paschal candle which now burns proudly each day at Mass in our little chapel at 4 First Turn was blessed not at Wolvercote but in the Adriatic Restaurant on board the P&O cruise liner Oceana during my recent cruise chaplaincy. I must confess to having had mixed feelings about the experience before I boarded the ship yet from the moment I arrived in Southampton on Monday of Holy Week I felt totally relaxed and at home. The challenges involved in adapting the Holy Week and Easter liturgies for celebration in the ship’s card room and one of her restaurants were easily overcome not least because of the enthusiastic cooperation and support of passengers and crew alike. The only thing that was not possible was the lighting of the Easter fire (for rather obvious reasons!). All the other ceremonies which we associate with this beautifully moving and inspiring time in the Church’s Year were celebrated with the same faith and devotion as would be the case in an ordinary Catholic parish church.

 The Paschal candle in the chapel at Wolvercote

The Paschal candle in the chapel at Wolvercote

Of course the Easter Vigil was the climax of our celebrations with a mixed congregation of both passengers and crew numbering 120. It was followed by a wonderful (and totally unexpected) party, centre-stage of which was a large chocolate Easter cake produced by the catering staff in the galley! And all this happened not at the usual time just as it is getting dark. The commitments of the crew meant that none of the liturgies in which they were involved were able to begin before 11.30pm! It was 2.00am before I finally returned to my cabin after the Easter Vigil and by then the ship was rolling in heavy seas on her way from Barcelona to Marseille. Yet I can hardly remember another occasion when my heart has been so filled with Easter joy. In particular the faith and devotion of the young men and women (mostly Indian and Filipino) who cooked for us, served us, cleaned for us and attended to our every conceivable need and who then at the end of a long and tiring day found the time and energy to accompany their Lord in faith along His Via Dolorosa to His Cross and finally to the Garden of the Resurrection was truly amazing! In the days that remained for us on board Oceana many people stopped me to say how moving the Easter Vigil had been for them and how uplifted they had felt that night. So now each time I light the Paschal candle at Mass I am reminded of this unforgettable experience and of the precious friendships I made during my 10 days as a cruise chaplain all rooted in the Easter faith we share together wherever we come from and wherever we find ourselves in the world.

One morning as I was setting up for Mass on board ship a man came into the card room and engaged me in conversation. He was curious to know how I had managed to escape from my parish at such an important time in the Church’s Year. When I told him that I no longer had a parish but now served as the Director of the St Barnabas Society he said: “I know it well…and I support you financially!” It made me realise what small places the Church and the world are and also how dependent charities like ourselves are upon the material and prayerful support of so many people we hardly know and yet who have been touched in some way by the work we do and moved to do something to ensure that it continues. When I celebrate Mass this week for our Beneficiaries and Benefactors that man will be at the forefront of my mind along with countless others to whom the Society remains eternally grateful. Whether on land or sea may I wish all our supporters and friends and happy and holy journey through Eastertide.

“The Lord has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia!”

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