Archive for September, 2010

Blessed Are the Pure of Heart … …

You may ask: “Why does the Church beatify, or canonise, people?” Such celebrations should not be – and never are – undertaken lightly, simply because both amount to proclamations, to the effect that, with certainty, a particular human being has found his / her way to heaven; consequently, all of us, still here on earth, can think of him, or her, as a saint, as blessed, and a model for us to follow in our own lives. For both, the process is a long and difficult one, and the Church does its best to check every detail of a person’s life, before publicly declaring the subject to be, certainly, ‘in heaven’.  What a wonderful accolade to be paid to a person’s life!  Only a few days ago, when Pope Benedict visited Twickenham at ‘The Great Assembly’, he said to the young people present: “I hope that some of you listening to me are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants, most of all for you, is that you become holy”.


Pope Benedict with Young People – Twickenham – September 2010

The phrase, “Most of all that you become holy!” is a most interesting statement of intent, and one that comes straight from the Scriptures: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (I Thess 4:3) If we know God, we know that God is all goodness and love; he desires only the very best for each and every person. He has the good of each one of us, personally, at heart – much more than any goodness we, ourselves, can achieve, and so this must mean that the ‘events of life’ – the situation we are actually in right now – is, precisely, what God wants for each one of us. Every event is, either the direct result of his will, or it is permitted by God. Not all of us will find this easy to grasp; furthermore, unless we come to know God – really know him, “not in a ‘notional’ way, but in a ‘real’ way” (Blessed Cardinal Newman’s language), we will find it impossible to grasp, at all.

God does not want us to remain ‘unchanged’ by the circumstances of life we experience, circumstances that are constantly changing; rather, what he wants is a ‘transformation for good’ of our selves. With the grace of God, we may feel, perfectly at peace, in our circumstances, and our constant, daily, task is to glorify and thank God. Otherwise, we may not feel at peace – may feel unhappy, disturbed, threatened … .. ; my experience is that many feel depressed, sad, lonely or deeply upset. Life teaches us that things are never ‘plain sailing’ for long; always, there is an element of suffering, anyway, and one cannot see what is round the next ‘bend in the road’; personally, I find that even getting up in the morning, is not something easily achieved, each coming day. In the Gospels, the first proclamation that Jesus makes is: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News”. Mark 1;14.  But, this is not something that we do on one occasion ­­– so to speak – and then leave it at that. The Words of the Gospel, analogous to all that Jesus said, and taught, are to be put into practice each day. The word ‘repent’ can be interpreted to mean ‘be transformed!’ As Christians, we cannot remain ‘stuck in a groove’; rather, life moves on, and we must move with it. God offers everyone ‘stuck’ in a ‘negative situation’ the chance of real redemption, but we must play our part; it is essential, in all of this, to believe, to trust in Him and to accept with love what He allows to happen to us; throughout we should remain united with Him.  If we can accept and follow this prescription, then we are fulfilling the words of the Pope, above:  “… … What God wants, most of all for you, is that you become holy”, and this brings me to the main thrust of my blog.

To return to my opening gambit, the reason the Church declares people to be ‘saints’ is so that we can have ‘living’ models to help and guide us on our journey – travelling that same road – once upon a time, taken by them.  On Saturday last, 25th September, a young girl by the name of Chiara Luce Badano, was declared a “Blessed” by the Church.  She was aged just 18 years, when she died in 1990.  Most certainly, she remains a person, on whom many young people would do well to model their lives.

Very often, in England, when something tragic happens, one will hear the expression: “That’s life.”  It may, for example, describe the death of a young person, and when used, it is expressive of a ‘realism’ that may be ‘hopeful’ or, indeed, ‘fatalistic’.  Truly, the comment, ‘That’s life’, has been used to me, so many times, and in so many different circumstances, but so often relating to the death of a young person; here, it rings true also, for the story of the short-lived, but very influential, Chiara Luce, whose life, and death, certainly, has had an impact on our world.  Her story, however, is not one of fatalistic resignation, but rather, one filled with that kind of ‘positive’ meaning, given by God alone.   Here in the UK, we are familiar with the idea of Beatification because, as recently as  two weeks ago, on Sunday, 19th September, 2010, Cardinal John Henry Newman was also beatified, in Birmingham – and what a joy that was, for all of us!  I join you in love and reverence for Blessed John Henry Newman, but now wish to turn my attention to Chiara Luce; I have known about her life and death for many a year, and, in sharing something of her, put forward the view that her ‘so-much-less-complicated’ life than that of Cardinal Newman, may the more easily be understood.

The ‘Blessed’ Cardinal Newman and Chiara Luce

Chiara Luce was born on 29th October 1971. Her parents are very devout people, and part of the small Village and Parish of Sassello, a community of just over 1000 inhabitants in the area of North Italy, by Genoa. In that part of Italy – just as here in Leyland – it often happens that life-long partnerships are formed, from an early age, between children in nursery schools, growing up together. So it was that ‘romance’ blossomed for ‘dad’, Ruggero Badano, and ‘mum’, Maria Teresa. They married in 1960, and so this year, 2010, marks their Golden Wedding anniversary. Both parents came from deeply religious families – poor materially – but rich in love and faith. Ruggero is a quiet man, a retired lorry driver, and his view of life, after ten years of childless marriage, was to feel that he was ‘missing out’ because all his friends had been blessed with children; he and his wife had none. Maria Teresa knew how much Ruggero loved her; her view was that the absence of children was part of this ‘Love’ they shared. It was after Ruggero visited a shrine to Our Lady, to pray for a child, that Maria Teresa fell pregnant, much to the joy of both, and eventually Chiara was born, in 1971.


Chiara with her parents Ruggero and Maria Teresa

As a growing child she was a carefree, serene little girl, surrounded by love, but not spoilt. Also, from her earliest years, she was taught about Jesus and how to pray to Him.  At the age of eight, Chiara had the good fortune to learn about ‘unity’, the gift that can transform people completely.  Certainly, it was to change her; it offered a new way of living; she responded to it, and it remained with her; it satisfied her ‘thirst’ for God.


Chiara Luce, at 9 years,  dressed ‘to kill’ for the Shrove Tuesday Carnival, 1985, and as a beautiful young lady, full of life, before falling ill in 1988 

Many people, who have embraced the ideal, or ‘Charism of Unity’ of the Focolare Movement, have had the same experience. I include myself among them.  This gift of ‘unity’, as Ruggero explained, when he, too, was captivated, said; “It was a kind of love that was different from the love I had for Maria Teresa and Chiara, a love that was strong, and natural, and supernatural. Gradually it dawned on me that there was a Jesus right next to me, to whom I could speak personally, to whom I could tell everything.”

But, to return to Chiara Luce, she loved ‘pop’ music and dancing. She also liked singing, and, in fact, she had a lovely voice. An exceedingly popular young lady, everyone liked her, and she was always surrounded by friends – both girls and boys. One of her friends said of her: “She liked to dress well, she kept her hair well-groomed; and sometimes she wore make-up, but she never overdid it”. Chiara, with hopes of becoming an air-hostess when she grew up, loved sport, and took every opportunity to take part in many kinds of physical activity. Besides going for long walks in the mountains with her father, collecting mushrooms, Chiara loved tennis and swimming. Her mother remembers her plunging into the huge waves at the seaside, time after time.

One afternoon, in the summer of 1988, she was playing tennis.  As she carried out a stroke, she felt such pain in her shoulders that she dropped the racket, and had to crouch down, in agony. At first, she thought nothing of it; but the pain was to persist, and medical investigations became a necessity.  These revealed something very serious – osteo-sarcoma with metastasis, which in ordinary language means a very aggressive, spreading bone cancer. When she realised the full truth of her situation, she took the news without flinching. However, there were many further steps to be taken.


A massive change occurred after her first operation. Her mother, Maria Teresa, described it like this:

“For some time she had realised things were going badly and she really did have cancer. Nevertheless she was full of hope that she would be cured. A few days after the operation she asked the doctor what the real prognosis was. So she discovered the truth about her illness and she was told that she would lose her hair through the chemotherapy. In fact, it was probably this that made her realise the gravity of the illness: she was quite proud of her hair. We were in Turin staying with friends because the operation had been done in the hospital there. I can still see her there in the garden in her green coat. She had a fixed, almost absent look on her face as she came into the house. I asked how it had gone and she replied: Not now, don’t let’s talk about it now.’ She threw herself down on the bed, her eyes closed and stayed there for twenty-five minutes. I was dying inside, but the only thing to do was to stay beside her, in silence, suffering with her. It was a battle. Eventually she turned towards me, smiling: ‘Now we can talk,’ she said. It was done. She had said her ‘yes’ once again, and she never turned back from that. Only once did she ask the reason for her suffering. After the first operation she had exclaimed: ‘Why, Jesus?’ But a few moments later she said: ‘If you want it Jesus, then so do I.’”

Her illness lasted two years, and she lived it in the company of her parents, and her friends – some young, some old – with whom she was ‘united’ in sharing love for God and each other. Young people visited her in home and in hospital; they visited to support and console her, and came away, themselves, consoled and strengthened. But, it was not all ‘one way traffic’, as she, too, was supported in making her daily ‘YES’ to God and his will – often amid severe pain – with the help of her young visitors and others. Out of all this came an amazing correspondence with the founder of the Focolare, Chiara Lubich. Three months before she died in July 1990, she wrote to Chiara Lubich:

“First of all I want to update you about the state of my health. They have stopped giving me the chemotherapy because it was no use. So, medicine has laid down its arms! Now only God can do anything. Stopping the therapy has meant an increase in the back pain, and I am hardly able to turn on to my side.

“This evening my heart is full of joy. Do you know why? Carlo’s mum came from Genoa to see me (Carlo was a young boy involved in the life of unity of the Focolare movement who had died some time before). It was a very strong moment of Jesus among us. I was so moved that I found it almost impossible to speak. She brought me some photos of Carlo so that I could choose one for myself. In fact I have it right in front of me now. While I was with his mother, Carlo was also with us. In fact, his presence was so strong that I found myself looking at the chair in my room to see if he really was there. Yes, he was there!

“Oh, my little mum, (her way of speaking to her friend Chiara Lubich), will I manage to be faithful to Jesus forsaken and live to meet him, like Carlo did? I feel so small and the road ahead is so hard. Often I feel overwhelmed by suffering. But it’s my spouse who is coming to visit me, right? Yes I will repeat with you, ‘If you want it Jesus, I want it too.’ Another thing I wanted to say: here everyone is praying for a miracle (and you know how much I would like that….), but I am not able to ask for one. Perhaps I find it difficult to ask for a miracle because I feel that it is not in his will. Could that be so? What do you think?

“I would be happy if you could choose a new name for me (if you think it the right moment).”  


Chiara Luce acting in a mime, as a young girl, proclaiming God’s Love for us from the Cross, “Gesu’ Abbandonato” or, in English, “Jesus Forsaken” 

A week later the reply arrived:

“Thanks for your letter in which you tell me about your health and the visit from Carlo’s mum. Jesus in the midst that you established with her was so great that you also felt the presence of Carlo. I am happy about that. Thanks too for your photo. Your luminous face shows your love for Jesus. Chiara, don’t be afraid to say your ‘yes’ to him moment by moment. He will give you strength, be sure of it! I too am praying for this am always there with you. God loves you immensely. He wants to penetrate the most intimate part of your soul to give you a little taste of heaven.  

“The name I have thought for you is Chiara Luce. Do you like it? It is the light of the ideal which conquers the world. I send it with all my love. On St. Clare’s feast day (11th August) you too will be with me spiritually.” 

There is much more to be said about Chiara Luce but not in this blog. She died just before her 19th birthday, on the 7th October 1990, in her own bedroom, surrounded by her family: with a great effort she had greeted many of her young friends, the evening before her death. It is interesting that people who were at her Beatification Ceremony, and at the celebration that took place in the evening, when 25,000 people were present, also said: “We felt the presence of Chiara Luce with us”.  


The Beatification Celebration – Chiara Luce Badano – September 2010


People in St. Peter’s Square watching the celebration after the Beatification 25th September 2010

There is an Internet ‘Face-book’ testimonial, that each day, carries various messages from people, young and old, all over the world. I have chosen two to complete this short story:

“I didn’t’ know anything about you until last Sunday. I have found that you answer a lot of my questions about life – now I can count on you”. (A young man called Renzo Colzami)

“What a beautiful (beatification) ceremony and experience. Chiara Luce help us always to live in the light of love. (A young girl called Susan Greene)

I wonder whether Pope Benedict, who first declared Chiara Luce “Venerable”, in 2008, and confirmed the miracle cure of a young boy, to support her cause, was thinking of her, when he said to the young people, in Britain’s ‘Big Assembly’:

“I hope that some of you listening to me are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for you is that you become holy”.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

My blog title’s famous Latin phrase, meaning “I came, I saw, I conquered”, is built on words attributed to Julius Caesar, at the end of a victorious battle, in Turkey, (BC 47).  This year, well over 2,000 years later, they were to be used again by a former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, to describe the humble, gentle, pilgrim Pope, Benedict XVI, on his recent four-day ‘State Visit’ to Britain. The manifestly humble ways, and wise words of the Pope, won over multitudes of the British people, and so this phrase should not, in any way, be seen as giving glory to the Pope himself; rather, the glory must be given to the Lord, whom the Pope represents as the Vicar of Christ on earth – in major contrast, and diametrically opposed to – the ways of Julius Caesar, who attributed all his successes, in war (and elsewhere) to himself.  But one may ask the simple questions: “Why did so many people go out onto the streets; why did many millions watch on Television?” The answer lies with the understanding that the Papacy is, truly, a presence of God in our world.  Jesus is THE revelation of God, and if people reviled and rejected HIM, it is not so surprising that a small minority did the same when Pope Benedict came to visit.


The phrase, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, was used by Sean Lovett, a perspicacious journalist, whose words I have followed, frequently and with much interest. He works for the Vatican Radio, and invariably accompanies popes who are wont to travel.  In April 2008, when Pope Benedict went to the United States, I well remember his words describing the Pope as having won the hearts and minds of the American people; ultimately, they fell ‘in love’ with him, and did not want to let him ‘go’. Similarly, in May 2009, Pope Benedict visited the Holy Land, and Sean described the joy and hope the visit gave, especially to the Palestinian people – to the tiny minority of Christians and the many Moslems – together with their wonderfully warm welcome to the Pope.  He went on to explain that the Pope also won the hearts of those Jews open to dialogue, love and reason, for he prayed at length, and silently, at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, and said “May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the hearts of people anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!”

I doubt if many readers of this blog will have read what Sean said about the Pope’s visit to Britain, and so I now reproduce a substantial section of his very telling words:

THE SECRET OF SUCCESS Reflection on the Pope’s visit

Pope Benedict XVIth’s four-day visit to Great Britain has ended. Sean Patrick Lovett looks back to trip and draws his conclusions…

“He came, he saw, he conquered”. No, not Julius Caesar – Benedict XVI.

And, no, I didn’t say that about him – a former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury did. Even if I couldn’t think of a better way to describe one of the most anxiously anticipated papal visits ever, to anywhere.

So, it’s official: Benedict XVI’s state visit to the United Kingdom has been universally judged a “success” (the papal spokesman used the word “wonderful”). Before you say “I told you so”, remember that its success wouldn’t be news at all if it weren’t for the fact that, up until only a few days ago, a significant number of highly-placed-people-in-the-know (both in London and in Rome) were convinced it was going to be a disaster.

Their trepidation was largely based on a barrage of nasty news stories and the very vociferous protests of several anti-Catholic individuals and groups. What made these voices different from similar protests in the past was that they were so loud and insistent they gave the impression they were reflecting the views of the “silent majority” of people living in the United Kingdom. Conclusion: the Pope wasn’t welcome, no one cared, at worst he’d be insulted, at best he’d be ignored.

Now we know that’s not what happened. When did what was going to go so terribly wrong, start to go so terrifically right? Sociologists, psychologists and spin-doctors will undoubtedly have their own versions but, personally, I think the success of this trip is the result of a perfect fusion of content and form. Let me explain. On the one hand it was a truly historic event: there was pomp and ceremony, pageantry and colour – and everyone loves a good show. On the other there was the surprise effect of Benedict himself. Contrary to popular preconceptions, he was warm, gentle, and authentic. Here was someone who wasn‘t doing and saying all the things that politicians and celebrities usually do and say. Nowhere did he use a big stick to chastise and condemn, nor did he grumble and lecture. Everything he did say appealed to a spirit of shared values and to good old common sense – and that’s something the British understand and appreciate. Not just the country’s 6 million Catholics, but its 60 million citizens of all faiths, and none at all.

Over recent days, it has been fascinating to talk to many people among our Catholic community about the visit. Almost all have been – and still are – deeply moved by the Holy Father’s presence among us: one of my friends, a priest, who gives the impression of being a tough and unfeeling man, told me that, as he was watching on Television, he could not suppress a small tear, at the joy and beauty of what was taking place. I experienced many similar moments – on several different occasions. Whilst waiting for Pope Benedict’s arrival in St. Mary’s Chapel, Twickenham, with many other religious, the sense of expectancy was tangible. The photograph, below, shows some of those present, on that occasion, and the Pope walking through our midst.


Immediately afterwards, the Pope attended the ‘Big Assembly’ and the following photograph pictures, perfectly, the sense of sheer joy and exuberance shown by the school children.


On Friday afternoon, 17 September, the Pope experienced a ‘Trinity’ of events very much connected with the English “Establishment”, firstly, at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, secondly, at the iconic Westminster Hall, that ancient and historic edifice within the Palace of Westminster, (or Houses of Parliament), and, lastly, at Westminster Abbey, the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster. On all three occasions, Pope Benedict, with his natural humility, charm and with seemingly effortless ease, won over the ‘audiences’ at the three different ‘State’ venues.  His presence, and address, in Westminster Hall, were applauded to the echo, by no less than five, past and present prime ministers, by parliamentarians, members of the legal profession and many, many notorieties – ‘top’ people from the ‘Establishment’. Indeed, it was very touching – very moving – to sit and watch, then to ponder, and inwardly digest, history in the making. Quite spontaneously, someone remarked to me, it was as if the ‘Reformation’, with all its sad divisions, had, for a moment, been swept away.


It was quite another experience to be among the thousands in Hyde Park, for eight hours – and more – hours that slipped by in a ‘flash’.  Our small group from Lancashire would not have ‘missed it for the world’ and several were heard to remark: “How lucky we are to be here, and how we wish many others of our friends could have come”. The huge crowd was joyful, well-mannered, helpful to each other, and so, in a way, we saw what a ‘new world’ could be like – a world in which people became united, truly, in common purpose, in respect and loving care for each other – surely a lesson in love and its inevitable legacy! 



Much later, and after the Pope’s arrival, we knelt, we sat, we stood in silence – all 90,000 of us – young and old, at the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; at the end of the evening, it was heart warming and deeply moving, to join and sing, ‘full voice’, together and with our Blessed Lady and Mother, the ‘Magnificat’:  

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”



My readers will have gathered, by now, that to me, the Pope’s visit to the UK was nothing short of ‘magical’ – formally, socially, and with a deeply meaningful religious vein – and so should not be surprised to read that, in a different context, I could go on, and on, and on … … in praise and thanksgiving to the Holy Father and to God who was with him, ‘alpha et omega’; however, a blog demands a certain brevity and conclusion.  For this, please allow me to end with another quote from Sean Patrick Lovett – largely because, in other circumstances, the visit could have turned out so very differently, and his reflections, again, will in all probability, be unknown to the majority of my readers: 

HEART SPEAKS UNTO HEART:  Reflection on the Visit of the Pope 20th Sept 2010 

If you were given just under four days to deliver over a dozen speeches to thousands of people (and millions more via TV and the internet) – what would you say? 

The problem, you see, is that everyone wants you to say something to them. Everyone is waiting for a message – a word of comfort or consolation, confirmation or inspiration, a word of guidance or enlightenment, pious sentiments or political insights. They want you to talk about life and love, about failure and faith, suffering and salvation. They want you to tell them about goodness and God, to say you’re sorry for sins you didn’t commit and to express shame for things you’ve already said you’re ashamed of.

And when you’ve done that, when you’re breathless from speaking, when your mouth is dry from telling them all the things they’ve asked you to tell them – there will always be those who will claim that everything you said was still “too little, too late”.  

It isn’t easy. It takes courage. And conviction. Not only are you expected to know what you’re talking about and to be utterly credible, you’re expected to live out what you say – to practice what you preach. And then, when all is said and done, how do you know that anyone has actually heard, taken heed, and taken to heart your multitude of words and messages? You don’t. But you do it just the same. 

That’s only one of the things that fascinates me about covering the Pope – the fact that he does it just the same. With courage and conviction he forges ahead into potentially hostile and unsympathetic waters. With patience and gentleness he confronts the controversy and contradictions. With firmness and frankness he tells us – not necessarily what we want to hear, but certainly what we need to. 

It can’t be easy. It must take courage. And conviction. But he’s the Pope – and he has plenty of both. 

With Pope Benedict in the UK, I’m Sean Patrick Lovett.

Have-a-Go Heroes

“‘Have-a-Go’ Heroes” is the title given to the ‘Mission’ in our High School this week, as we await the Pope’s visit to the UK. Some ‘wag’ – and there is always one – said that they thought Pope Benedict might have ‘popped in’ to open it. In some ways, any modern Church leader needs to be a hero, because there is such a lot to consider, in today’s complex society. Our Archbishop, Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, put it very well in his Pastoral Letter, published last week.

“Pope Benedict comes to us when so many families are deeply affected by what is happening in Afghanistan. And the reality which is Afghanistan is woven into the story of the whole Middle East. For very many years our country has been involved in that part of the world. And it is wise to remember this: the story of the British Empire, of the Commonwealth ties us into the history and the well-being of so many races and peoples and religions. And that is closely connected with immigration to this country. For the Pope to meet the Queen of this country, to speak with our political leaders is complex indeed. And it is worth remembering: when Pope John Paul visited us we were at war with Argentina in the South Atlantic.

Because of the complexity of our society, where Christians, Jews, Muslims and those of many other religions find their home, the Pope will meet with Jews, Muslims and those of other religions. He will do so especially as they all seek, because of their fidelity to the deepest aspects of their life, to be a blessing in every aspect of human flourishing, both here at home and in the councils of the nations.

But shining through all of the Holy Father’s teaching is this fact: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The way we read that great story of the two sons is this: When we, the younger brothers and sisters wandered away into far countries, even as far as hell, the first, well-beloved only Son, in the words of Pope Benedict’s first homily as Bishop of Rome, leapt to his feet. And in the words of Cardinal Newman’s hymn: ‘O loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.’”

We three, from Leyland St. Mary’s Priory, Columbian, Fr. Luis, Tanzanian, Brother Alfons, and I, spent the whole day on Wednesday, 15th September, in our Catholic Technology College – most of us still think of it as our ‘High School’. On that day, it was the turn of Year 9, which meant that, throughout the day, lessons were interrupted while they were asked to think about how they, themselves, might be heroes – a task not as impossible as it might first sound. The three of us, religious, from three different continents, decided on the complex task of finding a common hero – one to whom we could all relate. It is true that, although we come from different parts of the world, and although we are very different in temperament, we have become very good friends, so much so that it will be rather sad to see Fr. Luis and Bro. Alfons, leave Leyland in the very near future – but all good things must come to an end! In our deliberations, we found a very moving ‘Power Point’ presentation concerning Pope John Paul II, and so showed this to the students, pointing out that ‘JP2’ was a common hero for all three of us. The students were then asked to comment and answer questions.

One of the things we asked went like this:

“Our hero, Pope John Paul II, from the age of eight, had a relationship with a person whom he called his ‘friend’. John Paul II never forgot his ‘friend’ all his life and his ‘friend’ remained with him always. What is your relationship with this ‘friend’?”  Not surprisingly, one bright young girl thought the ‘friend’ was an ordinary human being.  However, the ‘friend’ to whom we referred, of course, was Jesus, and at the age of eight, young Lolek, as he was then known, made his First Holy Communion. 

The photograph, here, is of him at that age, and at that special moment in his life.

It was so very interesting to hear the responses of some of the Year 9 students (aged between 12 and 13) to the question about Lolek’s ‘friend’. Some – either not baptised, or non-Catholic, yet attending our school – were quite sure that one could know God. One young girl spoke simply, and with conviction, of knowing God, personally, through her praying, and through God’s help to her when experiencing difficulties. Some others, among the young people, said with great honesty, that they could not have a relationship with a God whom they had never seen. Another said that, as God had never done anything for him, he could not believe in God. Although controversial, it was very good to hear their honest – and unafraid – replies.

From where, I wonder, did some pupils get their convictions about knowing God (or Jesus)? From where, did a few others express their findings – their views – that they could not have a relationship with God at all? I do not know the answers, for sure, as I did not ask them, but I would suspect that, in both cases, it comes from their own experience of their own families, probably from their parents and grand-parents. In simple terms, belief in God is, usually, reinforced by the Catholic school; it is not usual for it to be ‘caught’, or to ‘originate’, there.  Basically, we know that it is God, himself, who reveals himself to people of any age, and all that parents can do – teachers, to a much more limited extent – is to develop the conditions in which God can more easily enter into a person, at whatever age. I believe, however, that the Rite of Baptism has got it ‘spot on’, when it describes the parents of the, just baptised child, as “the best teachers of their children in the ways of faith”.

On a brief, more secular note, we also asked the students who their heroes may be. Some of the youths came up with eminent scientists, artists or sports people. Interestingly, not one footballer was mentioned, though one mentioned a rugby player and another a basket-ball hero; some answers included musicians and singers. In every case, boys named male heroes, and girls ‘plumped for’ female heroes, (more correctly, heroines, I think!).  It was wonderful, however, to hear some of them saying that my ‘mum’ is my hero. One girl gave this kind of answer, and when I asked her why, she explained that her mum was suffering from ‘multiple sclerosis’ – and yet, she was always cheerful and loving – and a ‘mum’ for her.  This reply had the ring of very real truth about it. Another boy spoke about his father, and said he was his hero, because he was always ‘there for him’. What lovely accolades!

The discussion put me in mind of my heroes, and to take the subject a little further, a girl from year 11 – our ‘Year 11 Heroine’ – acting as ‘guardian angel’ to Fr. Luis, Brother Alfons’ and myself, and who was Confirmed in our Parish last year, asked me who my heroes were? This allowed me to put forward something that has been in my mind for quite a time. For me, it is often the people I meet, here in the Parish, who live heroic lives. None of them would be known outside their family circle – perhaps a few, as far as among parishioners or neighbours. I have mentioned these in my blog, from time to time. Today, I would mention a gentleman who is a very fine human being, and who is seriously ill in hospital. When I went to visit him, yesterday, the first thing he asked me was: “How are you, Father?” He asked this with such sincerity that I was taken aback. I had been looking forward to seeing Jim at home, but events ‘took over’ – as they many times do – for ordained priests, in parishes, and he ‘beat me’ to the hospital. In the meantime, I had heard from his family that he was, really, not very well at all, and, on hearing this, nothing would stop me visiting him there – a ‘number one’ priority! It was such a joy for me to see him, but his ‘How are you, Father?’ made me realise how much good, the laity can do for us ordained priests. Indeed, we really do support, and need each other! I was touched by his ‘pure gratitude’ for the gift of the Sacrament of the Sick and the Viaticum. After I had given him Holy Communion, he said to me: “Words cannot express what I feel.” 

Earlier, I mentioned the heroic nature of Pope John Paul II, and I now want to return to the subject of this holy man. In the ‘Power Point’ presentation of John Paul II it explained that, although some people criticised him, he got on with his life and his work, and, in the final analysis, he found himself with many friends. He dearly loved children and young people, and in the end they came to visit him, when he could no longer go to visit them.

Pope John Paul II with Children and Babies

He often pointed out how much it meant to him, to him to have these many friends; conversely, he knew how much it meant to them, to know him so well, because he knew how sad they were, as he lay dying. The image of a man crying comes from a photograph of people in St. Peter’s Square, on hearing the news that Pope John Paul had died. Another photograph shows the crowd, as his body is carried through the multitude on its way to burial.

 Pope John Paul II with Youth, His Death and Burial

Pope John Paul II hands the Cross to Cardinal Ratzinger

The last slide in the presentation has a beautiful caption; ‘Help my brother who will continue the work of Christ’, and it shows Pope John Paul II, passing the Cross to the then Cardinal Ratzinger. This is an appropriate way to finish the ‘blog’ as we now have the presence of Pope (Ratzinger) Benedict XVI among us. Certainly, for me, I would like to do exactly what the words on the ‘slide’ say – ‘Help my brother… …’, and this is the reason I am so happy to be able to support Pope Benedict, by seeing him in London – at Twickenham, on Friday, and on Saturday, at the Hyde Park Vigil. Incidentally, one of our parishioners will be speaking at Hyde Park, in the ‘warm up’ to the Pope’s arrival, between 5.00 pm and 6.00 pm on Saturday, when Ethel Singo, will explain how her ‘Parish Experience’ in St. Mary’s, has helped her to appreciate her Catholic Faith.

To go ‘full circle’ and end where I began, the slogan for the High School Mission seems, to me, an excellent one: ‘Have-a-Go Heroes, Mission not impossible’. Our young people may, or may not become, as famous a hero as Pope Benedict XVI, or Pope John Paul II, but they can also be real heroes, like the good ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ aforementioned, or indeed, like Jim, my friend, who will never be famous. Mission not impossible! True! And is the word ‘hero’ not very close to the ancient biblical word ‘saint’?

( For the Pope’s visit, if not on the normal channels of the TV, you will be able to watch

the events on EWTN or on the internet: look for the websites: or )

Cardinal Newman and the Pope

In a week’s time, God willing, Pope Benedict XVI will be here among us, being only the second Pope ever to visit us, throughout our long history. 

Pope Benedict XVI 

Some, of course, will well remember the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982, blessed as he was with a week of glorious sunshine, a relatively young man and full of energy. I remember, so well, the ‘buzz’ that his visit aroused, as I walked up from Putney to Wimbledon, and to the residence of the Papal Nuncio, where Pope John Paul was to stay and appear on the balcony, that night. And there was a real ‘buzz’!  Strangers were talking to each other – most unusual for our fellow countrymen and women – normally so reserved. I was in the ‘happy’ crowd that was with him as he spoke, briefly, and prayed that night.

Pope John Paul II 

The Pope is the one who succeeds Peter – his true successor; Peter was the centre of unity for the apostles, and his successor is the centre of unity for the Bishops and for us Catholics – a major responsibility given to him by Jesus. Peter, and therefore his successor, was given the ‘charge’ to care for and feed the flock. Jesus said to St. Peter:

“Simon you are a blessed man, for it is not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. Now you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church”.  

For us Catholics, the Pope is our leader and spiritual father, providing a focal point for the stability of our faith; he is our hope; he is the focus of our love. These three, cardinal virtues, mark us as Christians, for without them we cannot be followers of Christ. That is why it is so wonderful that the Pope should be coming among us to confirm us in these virtues, and, for sure, we need this confirmation – given the times in which we live.  

In his unique position, the Pope is the ‘Father’ of a worldwide ‘family’, and, as such, during his visit to Britain, he will meet leaders of other Christian denominations, as well as leaders of other faith communities. Because his visit is a ‘State Visit’, he will meet with the Queen and political leaders of the various denominations, and in such meetings, he will be able to share world-wide views of the challenges facing societies today.  In this regard, and in all probability, he will be unlike any other ‘national’ leader. It is remarkable that the Pope, alone, has the stature to bring together peoples of all religions – and also peoples of none.  During the papacy of his predecessor, this happened for world religions at Assisi, on three occasions, when representatives of all the major Christian Denominations – and World Religions – came together and prayed, in 1986, 1993 and 2002.  

With all these ideas in mind, I feel it is an honour to be allowed to fly the Papal flag, even here in our small town of Leyland. Surely, it is something of which to be proud, knowing that we can also contribute to this world-wide mission of the Pope, something very much reflected in the official prayer, set out in preparation for his coming, with the words: “May Pope Benedict be a witness to the unity and hope which is your will for all people”. 

John Henry Newman, in Earlier Life, and later as Cardinal

During his visit, the Pope will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman 

Cardinal Newman: Quite apart from his many other talents, this great Englishman had a direct affect on the life history of my own family – the ‘Cotton’ family – under the leadership of Henry and Rosemary Cotton, our father and mother, because my mother, as a young girl in the 1930’s, read Cardinal Newman’s ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua’, and was deeply influenced it. It was after reading the treatise that she entered into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, (circa. 1933); later, she was to tell me, that it was Newman who pushed her, finally, into the Catholic Church. Mother was no intellectual, but the crux of her argument was: “If it was good enough for Cardinal Newman, it is good enough for me”. Her strong Catholic faith – together with her love of the Anglican Church – was something that influenced me, greatly, as a young man.  I remember, well, the days when we would listen to ‘Evensong’, then often broadcast late evening on Radio 3, (The Third Programme those many years ago), and my mother would always delight in listening – and joining in – with the psalm singing and the hymns she knew so well. 

Personally, I think there were other influences on my mother – influences complementing those from Cardinal Newman. Rosemary, who was baptised an ‘Anglican’ in line with the rest of her family, had been educated by the Catholic Sion Nuns, in London, during her teens; later she, and her twin sister Elaine, were sent by my maternal Grandparents, Laurie and Nyda Tremlett, to a finishing school – also run by Catholic nuns – on Lake Constance, South Germany. Grandfather Laurie said to both girls, as they left home to begin this experience: “For pity’s sake, do not be influenced by those Papist nuns – remember you are Anglicans”. Later, Rosemary became a ‘nanny’ for a very good Catholic soldier, General Martin, and his wife – the general being the Military Attaché, in Poland, in the early 1930’s; from there she observed the Catholic Church, with its mark of ‘universality’, because she was to meet so many Catholics at Sunday Mass, in the many different Churches visited by the family.

Henry, Rosemary carrying her first born – my elder sister Joanna –

and Granny Gigia (Henry’s mother) 

However, there was to be one ‘last straw’, in my mother’s decision to enter the Catholic Church, and that was her meeting with my father at the house of General Martin, some time later at Chatham.  Both my father and the ‘Sapper’ General, were members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, in the Catholic parish, in Chatham. She told me later that, at the first meeting, she was determined to ‘marry that man’; my Father, Henry, was a deeply religious Catholic, all his life, including those years encompassing his mid-twenties. I think the religious ‘streak’ possessed by my Father, attracted my mother to him, and, although she afterwards told me she did not become a Catholic because of him, I have no doubt this was an influence, well within my mother’s temperament, leading her to ‘act more from the heart than from the ‘head’.  

But, now I want to return to Cardinal Newman – and his importance – for me. This holy man took a long time to consider before ‘taking the plunge’ and becoming a Catholic – in all about 20 years. Firstly, in this regard, I believe it may have been far better not to have rushed into things, especially when considerations involved not just matters of doctrine, but also matters pertaining to the taking on of another culture. Secondly, the things he wrote about – all eminently sensible – reflect what actually happened. One of his books is called ‘The Development of Christian Doctrine’, the title, itself, giving such a positive feel to the dynamic nature of Christian life: although everything is revealed through Christ, yet our understanding develops, gradually, over time – in this case over centuries, and this happens in life as well. All of us know what it means to be human, even as a child, but our conception and understanding of this generic concept, as an adult, is very different to the child’s ‘immature’ outlook.  Another of his books is called ‘An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent’. In this, he deals with ideas such as ‘How can I believe what I do not understand?’, and “Can I believe what is not proved”?  I remember, personally, trying to understand, and, hopefully, trying to arrive at some possible answers to these questions: I have a suspicion that the answers may still be escaping me, but also that, perhaps, my mother’s philosophy was what helped me through: “If Cardinal Newman thought it, it must be all right.” 

What impresses me most about Cardinal Newman, is that he was willing, and pleased, to be received into Full Communion, by Blessed Dominic Barberi, in October 1846 – not by a brilliant, Catholic, theologian, but by a holy Italian missionary, who could not even speak English, properly.  In August 1890, 20,000 people lined the streets of Birmingham, to see his coffin move along the streets of Birmingham to his grave, and this fact, alone, speaks volumes about his appeal, not only to the intellectuals, but also to the ordinary person in the street. It reminds me, in miniature, of the death of Pope John Paul II, when millions queued to be with him, as he was dying, in the year, 2005. 

It has been a very good and worthwhile exercise to dwell, for a time – to consider – to try to understand, some of the importance Cardinal Newman has had – on Catholic thinking – and on my own family’s fortunes, but it is also important to return to present society, and to Pope Benedict’s visit, 2010.  In truth, I think, here, the best thing to pray for as the Pope comes to visit to our shores is for good weather. It may be that not too many people fully realise the effect that our weather has on peoples’ disposition and good humour.  Certainly,  it will make a massive difference, should the days September 16 – 19, be bright and sunny, and that ought to be one of the prime things to pray for in these few days of preparation. On a more faith-based note, may he bless and encourage us, and confirm us in our faith, hope and love for the Glory of God, and the good of all.

Moving Onwards

In the psalms, last Tuesday morning, came the verse:

 But all the wicked shall perish

and all the enemies of the Lord.

They are like the beauty of the meadows,

They shall vanish, they shall vanish like smoke.

(Psalm 36, Grail Translation)

Dark Rider

These words put me in mind of various films, of a certain genre, I have seen, one of which was ‘Lord of the Rings’. In this ‘epic’, there were nine evil men – in league with those trying to destroy the ‘Hobbits’ – who had the ‘Ring’ with them. The ‘Nine’ rode fast and furiously on black horses, wearing black hoods that hid their faces. In one scene, the hoods opened up and their faces did not exist. Instead there was just ‘nothing’.  In the end, these ghastly evil presences simply disintegrated; much the same sort of thing happens in many horror movies. The ‘evil monster’, when challenged, will disappear – or disintegrate – in a puff of smoke. 

Many people, especially the very young, are frightened of the dark, of nothingness, of loneliness and of evil. I think that these fears have their roots, largely, in the awareness we have of our ‘impotence’ in the face of forces we do not understand, in our ‘inability’, often, to change things and to bring about their metamorphosis to things as we would like them – into things we are comfortable with; involved in these feelings, certainly, are those senses we can all experience, of being worthless, powerless – when faced with the unknown. Against all this, I am driven to reflect on the Divine Majesty of God, and that one day each of us, having ‘vanished, vanished like smoke, will find ourselves in His presence. There before God, He will not want us to be just an ‘empty shell’ – a ‘pale shadow’ of our real selves; He wishes us to have that ‘fullness of life’, that ‘magnificence of spirit’, for did not Jesus witness that: “I have come that they may have life, life to the full”. Now, you may ask: “Is this a paradox with no solution?” I don’t think so, and in this regard, events, experience and help from important Christian teachings, can throw much light on the matter. 

This last week has been one of those times that have affected me deeply – no doubt because of the experiences it brought – and these have led to a certain chain of thought. A few days ago, I was privileged to be with a friend of mine, Malcolm, when he was dying, and although I had not been involved in the hard work – staying up all night with him – as he approached this serious moment of his life, it happened that this was the way ‘providence’ arranged things. (We Catholics pray the Hail Mary throughout our lives, asking Our Lady’s help: “…. pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death” – and often, I would wager, not fully realising the absolute importance of these two moments of our lives – especially the latter.  Whoever composed this prayer was a genius, someone, I suspect, very much filled with the Holy Spirit.)  But, to continue, with me were two other mutual friends, so I was not alone with Malcolm, as he departed this life.  

When one’s friend, just before he dies, opens his eyes and looks at those who are with him, there is a very real and moving finality about this; there is also another look, so it sometimes seems, at someone else behind – or beyond – those in immediate focus, then, gradually, his breathing stops, and one is there in that dramatic silence, an awesome moment as the life of a friend comes to an irrevocable end; this, to be sure, is something that, certainly, sends out its mark to those close by, and to those observers it can seem as if there is a departure into nothingness – into a complete and void emptiness – into a hole that is left behind. 

However, when you know a great deal about the loving goodness of your friend, and the efforts he has made to live as good a life as he could, within his own limitations and personality, you realise that the words Jesus spoke, in the Gospel, just before he died, ring very true for such a loved one: 

“After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” John 17; 1-4 

Malcolm had finished the work given him by his Creator. This was to remain faithful to God, right to the very end, and on his journey of life, to have done all he could to follow the path God had marked out for him. I found myself, in his last moments of life, simply saying: “Thank You” to him, just for being himself. Looking back over our friendship, it wasn’t so much because of his abilities as a ‘wit’, as an interesting companion, as a loyal supporter of so many, but just his ‘being’ that had now ‘gone’. There is now a ‘hole’ in my life – and in the life of his friends – a ‘hole’ that he once filled. I look around and at a picture of my own ‘blood’ brother, Tim – brother and life-long friend – that reminds me so much of Malcolm, and have the same feeling – an emptiness in me, a ‘hole’ that is left because he is no longer here. 

However, in both these bereavements, I do not feel ‘lost’: rather there is a knowledge that the relationship remains, constant, unbending, unbroken, and I can continue to talk with them, in my mind and heart, in a way that is meaningful. It is not a complete ‘emptiness’, of ‘nothingness’, but somehow a ‘full’ emptiness that is taken up by the power and the presence of LOVE; LOVE that reflects their way of being, LOVE that reflects their way of loving, because the beauty I see in them is the development, in them, of gifts that were not theirs, but reflections in them of God’s LOVE. 

It is not easy, to put into explanatory words, the ‘realities’ I know to be true. Before sharing these with you, I must tell you that Malcolm, a Probation Officer working in Prisons, was also dedicated to God, and had decided to forgo the vocation of marriage – just like priests, monks and nuns. Two ‘illustrations’ will help to throw light on the matter. Both come from ‘holy’ women, the first of whom is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who writes about ordained priests, but her statement applies to all who, out of love for God, and accepting his gift, live a celibate life:

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“Dear collaborators with Christ, you have said “Yes” to Jesus and He has taken you at your word. The Word of God became in Jesus “poverty”. Your priestly celibacy is the terrible emptiness that you experience. God is not able to satisfy whatever is full. He can only fill what is empty…Today He wants to live his complete submission to the Father in you; agree with him and let Him do it. It does not matter what you experience, but what He does in you……You and me should do everything to let Him live in us and through us, in this world. Be very close to Our Lady, because she, before she became full of grace, full of Jesus, had to enter this darkness. “How will that be possible?” she asked. Yet in the moment she spoke her “Yes”, she felt the need to hurry away to take Jesus to John and his family.” 

For me, it is through the loving acceptance of God, in the emptiness of my being, that I can find the way to let Him fill my life – and this in collaboration with others – who wish to do the same. He will then help me to take himself – who is LOVE – to others with whom I come in contact.  

The second lady is a parishioner, called Nora, who is very ill with cancer. She is, also, almost totally blind, bed-ridden, grieving the death of her husband only four and a half months ago, and yet she remains serene, and sure of God’s immense goodness and love for her. I found myself saying, in a short note, a ‘Thank You’ to her, also, for her response to God’s gift, knowing and saying – as  she continually does – how good God is; I told her that she reminded me of a soul with Our Lady living within her.  

To offer a little further explanation, the ‘emptiness’ that is filled by God’s presence is a beautiful ‘emptiness’, quite different from the ‘ugly emptiness’ of those who live  estranged from God. Everything will appear to disappear into ‘nothingness’ when we pass from this world to the next, as Malcolm did before my eyes. But, for the ‘just’ it will not be like the emptiness of the wicked who shall ‘vanish like smoke’. This ‘emptiness’ for the ‘just’ is a void that will be filled with the goodness of God – a fullness of God that is built on our own ‘YES’ to Him every day, and built on the nothingness of our human nature, filled with the power and wisdom and love of God. 

Malcolm Pyman (Died 30 August 2010) May he Rest in Peace

One final word about my friend, Malcolm; in the last days of his life, a friend asked him for a word of encouragement for all, and he simply said: “Keep moving onward”. Malcolm, I think, is saying this in his picture.