I was particularly interested to read of the recent visit of my colleague, Cyprian Blamires, to Belmont Abbey, on the outskirts of Hereford. On 14th December 1994 I was received into the Catholic Church at Belmont by the late Abbot Alan Rees OSB. It was a very simple but beautiful occasion. Apart from myself and my sponsor, Dom Stephen Geddes OSB, (at that time a monk of Fort Augustus and now a parish priest in the Diocese of Plymouth) there were just three other people present. Yet the Mass that evening, during which the Rite of Reception was celebrated, marked one of the most important moments of my life and one that I will never forget.
Abbot Alan chose to celebrate a Mass in honour of Our Blessed Lady instead of the Mass of the Day and he wore a beautiful chasuble upon which there was the embroidered figure of Our Lady of Walsingham. When Mass was over and we retired to a Chinese restaurant in Hereford to continue the celebration, he told me that he had deliberately chosen that chasuble “because Walsingham is a place where Anglicans and Roman Catholics have always worked closely together.” As I began this new and somewhat daunting chapter in my spiritual journey those words were of great comfort to me. It was to be another two years before I was able to convince myself (and others) that God was calling me to be a priest of the Roman Catholic Church and another two years again before I was finally ordained to the Sacred Priesthood but the special graces I received before the altar at Belmont on that cold, dark, wintery night in 1994 sustained me throughout that challenging period of discernment and have sustained me as a priest ever since.
Naturally, over the years, I have returned to Belmont many times. Abbot Alan Rees died tragically in 2005 and I always make a point of visiting his grave and saying a prayer for this kind, gentle, holy and gifted teddy bear of a man who was such a wonderful friend and wise counsellor at a time when I needed both. But I also go into the Abbey Church and stand on the very spot where he received me as a Catholic because for me personally this is especially holy ground. I continue to draw great strength simply from being able to be there and reflect upon how my life was changed forever on that holy night. The Lord was saying “Follow me” and I knew I had to respond.
Please pray for the monks of Belmont and for the repose of the soul of Dom Alan Rees OSB, 9th Abbot of Belmont and later Titular Abbot of Tewkesbury (1941-2005). Requiescat in Pace.