Archive for September, 2013

Our Lady of Walsingham:

On Tuesday of this week (24 September), the Church celebrated another lovely feast of Our Blessed Lady – Our Lady of Walsingham.  (This is a joint celebration with that of Our Lady of Ransom – this latter feast mostly concerning the people of Spain and the foundation of the Mercedarian Order, dating back to AD 1223.  In Spain, Our Lady of Ransom has become venerated as the principal patron of the City of Barcelona.  In England, on the other hand, Our Lady of Ransom was implored in more modern times to bring about the rescue of England, in order that it may become, once again, Our Lady’s Dowry).

Returning to my main theme and Walsingham’s great feast pertaining to Our Lady, the multitudinous ways in which we endeavour to honour Our Lady never cease to amaze me – a mark, no doubt of her greatness; her greatness is so above all our understanding that it defies description.  We try to model, or paint, realistic pictures of her – many so beautiful even they seem beyond comparison; we turn to prose and prayer – where the words expressed, supplementing the many art forms – go some way towards enlarging our understanding of Mary, Mother of God – our Mother also, and, in a rather curious and surprising way, our Sister.

Sadly, I am quite sure in my own heart, that all our efforts – though created with the very highest ideals – fall short of the target.  That does not mean we should not keep on trying, however, for Mary is deserving of our best efforts – now – always.  We honour her as the mother of God and as Our Mother.  We also know of her as one of two mainstays of the Holy Family, when Jesus was just a child – and as someone God’s Son could turn to, when a little older, for help, wisdom and compassion.  Joseph must have been aware of this, as no doubt Mary was his lifelong and very wonderful helpmate.  Later, Mary was to suffer, firstly in relation to Jesus’ leaving home, to follow his vocation, then to see him suffer, ignominiously, and to die the most gruesome death on a cross.

Mary then, apart from her compassionate and motherly gentle nature, must also have been a woman of resourcefulness in the bringing up of a family – in hard times it must be said – a woman of determination and unconquerable strength.  Should we ever picture in our minds a woman of mildness or gentility to the point of weakness, we would be quite wrong.  Such a person could not have withstood the kind of life that Mary chose to lead.  Yet, knowing something of what lay ahead – Jesus’ life, her life – she was ever obedient to the will of God – a lesson for us as regards obedience and dedication to her chosen vocation.


 The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

The feast of Our Lady of Walsingham dates back to Saxon times. In 1061, the Virgin Mary appeared to the Lady of the Manor, Richeldis de Faverches. This lady was taken ‘in spirit’ to Nazareth, shown the house where the Annunciation took place and asked by Our Lady to build a replica in Norfolk.  Mary promised that ‘Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed.’  The simple wooden house that was then built there soon became the focus of special devotion to Our Lady, and this at a time when travel to the Holy Land and other foreign places of worship, was quite difficult – impossible for most people. The ‘Holy House’ was later encased in stone to protect it from the elements.

In 1153, the Augustinian Canons founded a Priory to care for the spiritual needs of the pilgrims. Their magnificent Priory Church was added in the fifteenth century, though only the ruins of the Priory arch remain, today.

Priory ARch

Walsingham became one of the foremost shrines of medieval Christendom. Among the pilgrims to the ‘Holy House’ were many royal visitors, and the ordinary people came in their thousands. In 1340, the Slipper Chapel was built at Houghton St Giles, a mile outside Walsingham. This was the final ‘station’ chapel on the way to Walsingham. It was here that pilgrims would remove their shoes to walk the final ‘Holy Mile’ to the Shrine barefoot.

slipper chapel

All this – the Holy Shrine and the resorting thereto – the pilgrimages – and with them Walsingham’s claim to holiness was soon to come to an end. Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries and in 1538 the Priory was closed, the ‘Holy House’ burned to the ground and the statue of Our Lady taken to London to be destroyed.

Hundreds of barren years passed until the Slipper Chapel, a 14th century wayside pilgrim chapel, was restored and pilgrimages to Walsingham began once again. On the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, 15 August 1934, the first Mass since the Reformation was offered in the Slipper Chapel, and a few days later Cardinal Bourne led the first pilgrimage of modern times to England’s National Shrine of Our Lady.


Procession at the Anglican National Pilgrimage to Walsingham

in the grounds of the ruined abbey, May 2003


How often we pray:

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death, Amen”.

I wonder what we make of our acknowledgement of the word ‘sinner’. ‘Pray for us sinners’ implies that all who say that prayer is a sinner.  So you, dear reader, do you like to consider yourself to be a sinner? I have been in the company of very good Christians who think that the new translation of the Mass goes on too heavily about being a sinner.

In the new ‘I confess’ at the beginning of Mass the text includes:

 ”I confess to almighty God ….. that I have greatly sinned,……in my thoughts and in my words, …….through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

My good Catholic friends find the tone of this is far too serious for them, especially the words ‘my most grievous fault!’  These friends, whom I respect highly, also dislike the formula we say before Holy Communion as being in the same ‘too heavy’ direction: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’  Personally, neither phrase offends me, because I do realise that I am a sinner, and sometimes  in my view, I have not been a mild one. However, God alone knows the seriousness of any sin.

Recently, in August this year, Pope Francis had a public conversation for the World-wide Jesuit Religious Order, of which he is a member, and the text was only released last week, after the strictest security: the Vatican Officials had not known about it until the conversation was published.

POpe FRancis

 Pope Francis with Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ

A Big Heart Open to God: The exclusive interview with Pope Francis – August 2013

Editor’s Note:

This interview with Pope Francis took place over the course of three meetings during August 2013 in Rome. The interview was conducted in person by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. Father Spadaro conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, Thinking Faith, America and several other major Jesuit journals around the world. The editorial teams at each of the journals prepared questions and sent them to Father Spadaro, who then consolidated and organised them. The interview was conducted in Italian. After the Italian text was officially approved, a team of five independent experts were commissioned to produce the English translation.

The setting is simple, austere. The workspace occupied by the desk is small. I am impressed not only by the simplicity of the furniture, but also by the objects in the room. There are only a few. These include an icon of St. Francis, a statue of Our Lady of Luján, patron saint of Argentina, a crucifix and a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. The spirituality of Jorge Mario Bergoglio is not made of “harmonised energies,” as he would call them, but of human faces: Christ, St. Francis, St. Joseph and Mary.

The pope speaks of his trip to Brazil. He considers it a true grace, that World Youth Day was for him a “mystery.” He says that he is not used to talking to so many people: “I can look at individual persons, one at a time, to come into contact in a personal way with the person I have before me. I am not used to the masses,” the pope remarks. He also speaks about the moment during the conclave when he began to realise that he might be elected pope. At lunch on Wednesday, March 13, he felt a deep and inexplicable inner peace and comfort come over him, he said, along with a great darkness. And those feelings accompanied him until his election later that day.

The pope had spoken earlier about his great difficulty in giving interviews. He said that he prefers to think rather than provide answers on the spot in interviews. In this interview the pope interrupted what he was saying in response to a question several times, in order to add something to an earlier response. Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other. Even taking notes gives me an uncomfortable feeling, as if I were trying to suppress a surging spring of dialogue.

The first question and answer was as follows:

Who Is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?

I ask Pope Francis point-blank: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

The pope continues to reflect and concentrate, as if he did not expect this question, as if he were forced to reflect further. “Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”

The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].

 St. Mathew

The calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio 1599-1600

Pope Francis continues his reflection and says, jumping to another topic: “I do not know Rome well. I know a few things. These include the Basilica of St. Mary Major; I always used to go there. I know St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s…but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighbourhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio.

“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”


Perhaps Pope Francis will throw light onto the meaning of the second half of the Hail Mary for some of us….. And if you are interested in reading the rest of the interview (which is fascinating and long) you will find it on our St. Mary’s website under the Bulletin tab and then scroll to the first option, bulletin home. There are many headings and you might like to read one topic only and then return to the whole talk later.

Father Jonathan



Jesus said to the people:

What description can I find for the men and women of this generation? What are they like? They are like children shouting to one another while they sit in the market place”:

“We played pipes for you,

and you wouldn’t dance;

we sang dirges,

and you wouldn’t cry.” 

“For John the Baptist comes, not eating bread, not drinking wine and you say, ‘He is possessed.’ The Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Yet Wisdom has been proved right by her children.”

How often do I do the same as those that Jesus observes in his own day: I see something and I am critical almost immediately, rather than reflecting and pausing – thus avoiding the making of a knee-jerk reaction. For instance, I can meet a foreigner with a different coloured skin, and immediately think: “Be careful, Jonathan, he or she may be after something”, when, in practice, I could find a ‘diamond’ inside him, or her. Sometimes, a difficulty comes our way, and we can see only the tragedy of the situation, rather than the ‘silver lining’ that every challenge (‘cloud’) brings. Our High School fire has been like that; it has caused great anxiety for many of the parents, students and teachers, never mind to those who are responsible for finding reasonable accommodation, for the continuing education of our pupils. The Head Teacher is adamant: this must not be made an excuse by anyone – teacher or pupil – for not doing well in the exams that some will take next year. All are invited to take up the challenge, pull together in order to do well, to focus very strongly and, God willing, it will draw the best out of everybody. Examination results may even be better than expected. God has allowed this to happen, and now it is up to all of us involved to respond, and be positive. I was touched that a recent winner of the 500 Club, a parishioner, has donated the £100 winnings to the School Disaster Fund; moreover, two Anglican vicar friends have sent a total of £350 to the same fund, ‘out of the blue’! What good will and goodness has come out of disaster!

Jesus, in this episode, is pointing out, in practice without naming it, how we look at things from below, not from above. We do not have the ‘pure eye’ to see: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” (Lk 11: 34) The ‘high-up’ people of Jesus’ time criticised both John the Baptist, and Jesus; in this, they were unable to see the goodness, the salvation, the freedom, the presence of God they wanted to share.

Last week, I read a meditation by an Italian Missionary, a person I’ve known a long time, and he has thrown light for me on all of this. His meditation is called “Throw away your own life”:

“When Peter declared to Jesus that he was the Messiah he didn’t expect Jesus’ response: ‘You have spoken well! Be aware though that I will finish up on the cross’. Peter was utterly shocked.

Some Greeks wanted to see Jesus. Jesus also told them that he ‘would be lifted up on the cross’. We don’t know how the Greeks reacted. We know our own view on the matter. Like that of Peter?

For Jesus, the cross is the hour of his glory, the fullness of revelation, of salvation which will be completed when there is unity. He uses the image of the grain of wheat that will bear ‘much fruit’. If it does not die ‘it remains alone’. It must be destroyed to multiply, if not it remains just a grain of wheat.

Jesus is not inventing anything: he is simply explaining how he lives from all time with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three are the model community precisely because each one ‘dies’ in the other out of love. This is their ‘glory’, they do what nobody else manages to do, they square the circle; they are three and they are one. They throw away their life and they rediscover all of it, completely fulfilled.

Jesus invites us to do the same; ‘Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life’ (John 12, 25). It seems absurd. We could do an experiment. Life is like a flower that God has placed in your hand. If we want to defend that life at all costs for ourselves, we could close our hands on it and it will remain in our fist and all the petals will be ruined. It we take a risk and leave our hand open, everyone can enjoy the flower which will remain intact also for us.

‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’.” 

That meditation throws light on the childish selfishness of those in the Gospel who could see no more, but only criticise St. John the Baptist, and Jesus, though they behaved in opposite ways. We all have a tendency to do the same, if the ‘eye’ of our heart is not pure.


The famous 15th Century icon of the Holy Trinity – Andrei Rublev  

Father Jonathan


The Road to Damascus:

Almost 2,000 years ago, circa the years, 33 – 36 AD, a ‘climactic event took place on the road to Damascus.  A certain man, then named Saul, who was one of many who took to themselves to exact persecution on the fledgling Christian communities, happened to be travelling towards the city when he became involved in what can only described as a life-changing experience.  All of a sudden, he was rendered sightless by a ray of light that came down from the heavens.  It is said that he fell to the ground and it was then that he heard a voice speaking to him:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

st paul

The Conversion of Saul

Apart from having officiated at the martyrdom by stoning of the first martyr, St. Stephen, Saul was an ardent hater of the followers of Jesus, and before beginning his journey to Damascus, he had been to see the High Priest and had asked for letters of authority, empowering him to arrest Christians, and bring them bound to Jerusalem:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

The ‘voice’ then told Saul to get up and to go into Damascus, when he would be given further instructions.  Saul’s companions took him to Damascus where he remained sightless for three days, neither eating nor drinking.  Now in the city there was a disciple called Ananias and the Lord appeared to him, told him about Saul, and where he was.  Ananias was told to go to Saul and to lay his hands on him in order that he may be cured.  And so it came to pass – Saul was cured of his blindness by the laying-on of hands.  After this, he was baptised under the new name of Paul, and he became a disciple of Jesus – the one who would take the Good News to the Gentiles.

From all of this, the conversion of St. Paul, we then have the truth that Paul became one of Jesus’ greatest disciples, one who endured many sufferings and later a martyr’s death in order to bring God’s word to the many peoples of foreign lands – to those who had never heard of Jesus – and, in so doing, he began the international evangelisation of peoples, then and since – a movement that eventually spread to the whole world.  Think of the importance of St. Paul – his position in the grand scheme of Christianity, yesterday and today; think of his letters to the Corinthians, the Colossians, Romans …. the list goes on and on. Almost half of the books in the New Testament have been attributed to him. Think of the importance of what he had to say – think of his words of wisdom on all sorts of matters that still affect our everyday lives – our relationships with God and with the Word of God.  His influence on Christian thought and practice has long been characterised as being ‘as profound as it is pervasive’ – an influence that is just as strong today as it ever was.

bombed syria

 Today’s Ruined Cities of Syria

But, there is another quite different ‘Road to Damascus’, we hear of in 2013, and this for quite different reasons – most of which are concerned with a bitter civil war that has been raging for a couple of years and more – a war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. The majority of these dead are just ordinary humble and poor people, trying to live their lives in a kind of ‘hell’, and they include a huge number of young children, infants and youths.  On top of this, millions of the ordinary Syrian population have lost their homes, the majority having been reduced to rubble by heavy artillery, rockets and other types of ordnance; to all of this must be added the millions that have fled their homeland and become refugees in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Kurdish Iraq, Jordan, and the Lebanon.



 Victims of Chemical Attacks in Damascus

In the last month, not content with hitting our headlines on virtually every daily news bulletin, for the reasons given in the last paragraph, Syria – and Damascus in particular – has been in our news for quite a different reason.  It has been reported that, on the 21 August, many hundreds of men, women and children were either seriously injured, or killed, by the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons on the city’s population.  The allegations are that the country’s ‘president’ – in Syria’s case, a word that is synonymous with ‘dictator’ – was responsible for the use of such internationally condemned weapons on a section of his own people, and this has given way to international abhorrence, condemnation and calls for the use of armaments by western forces: 1) to show the president and his generals that he cannot escape detection in the use of such prohibited weaponry, 2) to punish him and his government forces in some way – a punitive action – for the use of them, essentially, and 3) to dissuade him and his forces from ever using such weapons again in the future.

Not surprisingly, the United Nations Security Council permanent members, USA, UK, France – at odds with Russia and China – also with other western governments have been debating the issues, vehemently; many have been arguing for the use of military force against Syria; opposed to such action, many have been saying that the western powers should not get involved. The British Government has decided not to become involved, militarily, and the US President has decided that he is going to refer the whole question to Congress.  For the moment, therefore, no punitive military actions are being planned, and many governments, authorities and peoples are thankful for this input of what they see as common sense – as opposed to the ‘knee jerk’ reactions that were being advocated by the military ‘hawks’, always ready to put forward their ‘act now, pay later’ approach.

At this stage, I can almost hear you ask the question just what is this blog all about?  What has St. Paul and his conversion on the road to Damascus got to do with the Damascus of today?  And the answer, I think, is that there is a significant connection – a connection that has to do with the power of evil.

St. Paul was engaged in what he later came to acknowledge as a resolve to ‘put down’, to destroy, the early movement towards Christianity; he was prepared to use any means to that end – even murder. He referred to himself as a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” at Tarsus, and his vocation at the time was to protect the only way of life he knew – very much a ‘right wing’ Jewish way.  Later, having come to know Jesus, he admitted that his actions had been wrong, that he deserved to be punished for those actions by God, and that he did not deserve to be redeemed and go to heaven.  But, true sorrow and reconciliation with God, and His Word, can go a long way – they worked wonders for St. Paul, and, small wonder it is today, then, that Paul is regarded as one of the greatest of the saints and martyrs.

That was then, 33 to 36 AD, and the power of evil was at work.  Bring the whole picture up to date and we have the same influences at work, once again.  Civil war, in itself, is a great evil, and so is the victimisation of a population – of one’s own people.  The use of air power and of all kinds of weaponry against a mostly unarmed population is analogous to such evil; fighting on both sides – official and rebellious – cannot bring forth good, and the use of indiscriminate methods of mass murder – extermination almost – has the ‘stink of badness’ about it.  Similarly, the use of external force, by foreign countries, not involved in the civil conflict, can cause great harm – and always with the possibility of cataclysmic consequences for the whole region.

It seems to me that, after all the advances that have been made in human knowledge – despite the experience of centuries of living ‘side by side’, individually, socially, nationally and internationally, we still cannot resolve our differences peacefully.  Peacefully, is God’s way!  Fighting is our way – most of the time.  Man, what are we to do with man?  Perhaps we could do no better than to go back to St. Paul and his letter on the value of love.  His words, describing what love is, are just about the most touching, the most gentle, the most beautiful, I have ever read on the subject.  Were we to adopt them – even a little more than we presently do – then human society could at least give itself a ‘pat on the back’, for once; just think how many lives might be saved, just think of the added sums of money we would then be able to spend on looking after the poor, the starving, the sick and the downtrodden, of human populations across the world, as an alternative option to the buying of armaments and the maintenance of armed forces.

When, when, when are we going to learn the lesson?


Father Jonathan adds a very important rider to the above:

“Rule in Syria has always been tyrannical, but it was never a country growing up, organically, like England; essentially, it was a territory imposed fairly recently on diverse peoples,.

My own view is that this Syrian crisis, with all the evil, the smell of the devil inside it, is affecting the hearts of millions and millions all over the world.  It is a very dangerous situation – a ‘powder keg’ of emotions, if you like.

My clear impression is that there is good and bad on both sides in this civil war. There are many factions in the mix. The majority of Christians remaining in Syria are on the side of the Government. Amongst the ‘freedom fighters’ or rebel ‘opposition’ to government forces are many shades of fundamentalism, and the fear is that they will take over if they can; they are manipulative and unable to see the others’ points of view, whether religious, or of the ‘Al Quaida’ persuasion; there are many other varieties besides. In the mix is the pride of politicians, and trying to ‘save face’ on all sides.  

I do not wish to be too simplistic, but all this amounts, as I say to a very dangerous situation; this may be the price being paid with the loss of so many poor, innocent lives, in order that the good of the future can emerge – through untold suffering. It is like Jesus dying on the cross again, and again, and again, all the while feeling abandoned by God.

In putting forward these comments, I need to be careful of quick judgements about what is going on in Syria. The same has been true over events in Iraq and Afghanistan. What a world!! 

However, I loved the BBC Correspondent Jeremy Bowen’s report, when a man on the Government side said yesterday: “We from Syria have given you St. Paul, (as is portrayed so well in the blog, above); you have given us terrorists!”

This also may be a little too simplistic, but he has a point.”

Last Saturday night, we in Leyland, joined with millions around the world to pray at a ‘last minute request’ from Pope Francis; there were thousands in St. Peter’s Square, with the Pope, concomitant with our small congregation in our own Blessed Sacrament Chapel. But God has listened to our prayers, because the proposed strikes into Syria have been delayed. Consequent on – and subsequent to – the Russian intervention offering to monitor, on behalf of the international community, the control and surrender of Syria’s chemical weapons, Syria’s President has said he will agree to the bringing of all such weapons under international control.  Let us at last hope that these initiatives are given the chance to succeed, and thus steer the world away from further conflagration.   



Sunday 1st September 2013 will remain in my heart probably till the end of my life; it was a day that contained about a week of life, if not more.

Wrightington St. Joseph’s stood in need of priestly assistance that Sunday, and so the two morning Masses, plus the Baptisms, became part of my duties. As usual, It was a privilege to be able to preside at these quite wonderful, Godly moments. Lunch was a 10 minute affair, because at 2.00 pm a group of 20 of us were due to prepare a beautiful, and simple, four-part song that we hope to perform on Saturday 26 October, at Hope University; it was entitled: “We believe in Love”. We learnt it, and sang it with enthusiasm and joy, because it was based on a saying of the girls, during the bombing in Trent, North Italy, during the Second World War, 1943, a meeting that became the origin of the Focolare Movement. The Spirit that God generated in them has since spread throughout the world; that same spirit affected all of us, learning the song, some seven decades later.  Should they have died under the bombing raids, they were adamant in wanting on their tomb-stone those simple words: “We believed in Love” – so simple, yet so profound!

The year 2013 marks the Golden Anniversary of the Focolare Movement, in Liverpool, and Hope University will host the Celebrations; it is, perhaps, significant that Hope University  was the seat of learning at which Chiara Lubich received an honorary degree, January 2008, in Divinity, for the contribution of the Focolare Movement: “to the life of the Church, to peace and harmony in society, to the unity of Christians of different denominations, and to dialogue and understanding between religions”.  On 26 October, Professor Pillay, the Anglican Vice Chancellor of Hope University, who presented Chiara Lubich with her degree, will give a talk on the contribution of Chiara Lubich and the Focolare to the future of the Church – all part of what is sure to be a joyous day.


Chiara Lubich (left) and some of her first companions in the 1940’s

In the middle of our joyful and lively experience, that Sunday, the telephone rang and a friend and parishioner told me: “The school is on fire on Royal Avenue”. This, of course, is the location of our High School, so I quickly rang the Head Teacher and off I went.  What followed was a devastating experience watching the school burn down in front of my eyes, despite the calm, professional, hard-working fire-fighters doing all they could to contain, and control, the fire – 145 of them, with at least 15 different fire engines, and innumerable other items of equipment. Their job was nigh impossible! However, their valiant efforts saved one third of the school buildings. The teachers present, and myself, wept – if not externally – certainly internally. It was like seeing a friend being killed, before our very eyes. Respite came late that Sunday night, after watching the fire for so long.

school fire

St Mary’s Catholic Technology College Leyland on fire

“We believe in Love”! On that day, as I saw the School burning, I could not help but think of Syria and the wicked use of chemical weapons on the people of Damascus. How much burning there is in that war – lives lost, too – without any of the calm professionals who came to help us. Many die from fire, and other ghastly things, in war, and to what end? What was the point of this fire, tragically started by some young lads? In our case, nobody was injured, nobody died. School buildings, that had just had £250,000 spent on them, were destroyed – yes! Bricks and mortar, plus contents went up in smoke. In Syria, at least 100,000 have died, many more have been injured and there are in excess of two million refugees – a tenth of the population of some 20 million people.

That same day, Pope Francis at his Angelus message, spoke out strongly against further violence in Syria. I would suspect that, all over the world, the suffering of the Syrians over the past two years is searing the hearts of men and women of every religion (and none). It certainly tears my heart apart and the hearts of many I meet. His Holiness was very forceful:

“Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected….. My heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming……

How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart.

 May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”

At the same time, I am touched by the generosity of so many in our local community, who want to help us in the aftermath of our dreadful fire. Parents and children are worried – and so are the teachers! There has been so much work, behind the scenes, and it is good news that is proposed, but not yet finalised.

Generosity breeds generosity, and we at St. Mary’s, propose a day of fasting and prayer, on Saturday, alongside the whole world for Syria. We will have a vigil, in Church, from 7.00 pm until midnight, this at the same time that Pope Francis will be praying.  All are welcome, and we will try to make it as light as possible.

Finally, the following images of the cross, salvaged from the entrance of our burnt-out school, and the little statue of the desolate Virgin Mary the only thing left in the teachers’ staff room, give a profound meaning to what underlies all these tragedies: they show the reason why all of us are invited: “to believe in Love”.


The Remains of the School Crucifix and Statue of Our Lady, Desolate

 Father Jonathan