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2 Slyne Road
Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 2HU

01524 32493

St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Lancaster – St Joseph’s parish comprises the northern side of the River Lune at Lancaster, taking in Ryelands, Skerton, Beaumont, and Halton. We are a small community where you will receive a warm welcome.

News

The Pugin Letters

Philip Conner

Peter Paul Pugin

Peter Paul Pugin

Last year the Houses of Parliament agreed upon a £3.5 Billion refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster and Elizabeth Tower which houses the bell known as Big Ben. The price of refurbishment reflects the commitment of the country to this iconic building, a building whose interior was designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52). Pugin was an English architect, designer, artist and critic who is principally remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival style of architecture. Besides the Palace of Westminster, Pugin designed many churches in England and some in Ireland and Australia. Upon his death two of his sons, Edward Welby and Peter Paul Pugin, continued his architectural firm as Pugin & Pugin. It was the latter of these, Peter Paul Pugin (1851-1904), who was the architect of St Joseph’s church in Skerton alongside other outstanding churches in our Diocese: Our Lady Star of the Sea in Workington (1876), Our Lady Star of the Sea in St Annes (1890), St Mary’s in Morecambe (1895), Sacred Heart in Thornton (1899), and he developed and enlarged English Martyrs in Preston and Sacred Heart in Blackpool.

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With the support of a substantial Heritage Lottery Grant, work is currently underway to restore St Joseph’s Church. The church is 118 years old and the Lancashire damp and driving rains have with time damaged the interior of the church. At this time when the church is being restored it is fortuitous that a sheath of letters has come to light. At a recent garden party in the church grounds, the parish priest was approached by a lady who works in Lancashire County Council Archives in Preston who said that the archives had recently acquired the original correspondence of Peter Paul Pugin relating to the building of the church (RCLV/ACC12549).

Miss Coulston (centre), flanked by Miss Smith and Fr Thomas Murphy

Miss Coulston (centre), flanked by Miss Smith and Fr Thomas Murphy

The correspondence relates to the period of 1897-1901 and is addressed to the first Rector of the mission at St Joseph’s, Fr Philip O’Bryen. The letters reveal Peter Paul Pugin’s frustration at the length of time that Margaret Coulston’s house (now the presbytery) was taking. The cost of the house, we are told, was £2000 (£250K in today’s money), a cost that could be held down ‘especially if the local builders are hungry for work’. Nevertheless, Peter Paul became impatient, lamenting the ‘slow progress being made with the building’ and writing to Harrisons of Lancaster that ‘if the building is not completed in time the penalty will be enforced’. Peter Paul took delight in designing the stairwell which was made by Hardman Powell & Co, a Midland company with family connections to the Pugin family.

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The correspondence reveals Peter Paul’s excitement as he began to think about a design for a church alongside the house. Margaret Coulston had set aside a sum of money for a substantial church, costing about £6000 (£758K in today’s terms). For this amount, Peter Paul felt that ‘something could be done for that but’, he added, ‘I must keep it simple’ and his ambitious designs for the upper part of the tower had to be restrained to fit within the said budget. ‘I must keep all the detail as simple as I can consistent with the perpendicular style’, he wrote.

One of the grotesques, looking out from the tower

One of the grotesques, looking out from the tower

Peter Paul was to spend the next couple of years dealing with contractors, negotiating with Margaret Coulston and the parish priest, Fr O’Bryen, and Bishop Whiteside of Liverpool, who he kept on meeting at different events up and down the country. Time after time he would submit new plans and it is fascinating to see how many of the details of the interior of the church were still be negotiated as the church was being completed. It was a task that absorbed Peter Paul and the letters reveal a man who was committed to develop a vision of the church alongside the house, set back from the road amidst ample grounds. ‘I think the whole thing will look very well and will make a beautiful group of buildings’, he wrote.

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But it wasn’t long till the project ran into problems. Given the cap on the amount that could be spent Peter Paul became anxious over the price for the stone, recommending the use of Grinshill from Shrewsbury over Yorkshire stone which was too expensive. In the event, a local company, Hatch & Son, were able to provide Lancaster Freestone, a millstone grit, that was quarried locally and at a more competitive price.

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On numerous occasions Peter Paul sought to stretch Margaret Coulston’s generosity, but always in the name of creating a more beautiful church. For example, for a little more, he insisted, the arches in the main nave of the church could be made of stone rather than brick and plaster. By and large Margaret Coulston, with Fr O’Bryen’s gentle persuasion, acceded. The total cost of the project which was overseen by Walkers of Preston ended up costing £8431 (£1.06M in today’s money).

The high altar

The high altar

Once the building was underway, Peter Paul Pugin busied himself with the interior design of the church. He would send through plans to Fr O’Bryen for the high altar, insisting that ‘it will look much better in reality than it does on paper’, relishing his use of mosaic to create ‘emblems of the Blessed Sacrament’ and attractive ‘inscriptions’. Initially the idea was a niche at either end of the High Altar presenting ‘Our Lady Mother of God and St Joseph’. In between there would be paintings of St Joseph’s life or choirs of angels, adding a brightness of colour. At the centre there would be a ‘canopy with adoring angels on each side’ which would be ‘very effective’ and ‘break up the centre line well’. He concluded, ‘I am sure the altar will look very well and will be quite in keeping with the church’. In the end, the altar was redesigned to its present design and built by Boulton’s Ecclesiastical & Architectural Works of Cheltenham in Caen stone and polished marble shafts at a cost of £604 (£76K in today’s terms).

Mosaic of the Lamb of God

Mosaic of the Lamb of God

Peter Paul worked with his long-time associates, Hardman of Birmingham, to create stained glass windows, particularly for the chancel, and to execute the mosaic work.

The hanging rood and stained glass windows with murals on either side

The hanging rood and stained glass windows with murals on either side

At this point, the Bishop put his oar in and complained that the design of the tower was still too plain, and Peter Paul was to spend the next few months arriving at an alternative design ‘which I think will be most effective and will add very much to the appearance of the church’ and which he hoped Miss Coulston would accept.

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Finally, Pugin was gratified to discover and to make use of a local firm, Gillows, to build the pulpit at £135 (£17K in today’s terms), communion rails at £50 (£6K in today’s terms) and oak screens between the side chapels and chancel. ‘Gillows is a good firm’, he wrote, ‘and I have no doubt will do first class work so I feel they would be safely entrusted with the work’.

The Gillow pulpit

The Gillow pulpit

Peter Paul took particular pleasure in the Sacred Heart chapel which became a labour of love for him. ‘It has not been an easy thing to manage but I am satisfied with it now’ and he concluded that ‘the altar will be quite unique of its kind’ with the round stained glass window cupped by the altar and its reredos beneath. Peter Paul then set to work on a flourish of other projects: the design for the font and baptistery, the redesign of the frames for the Stations of the Cross, and the design of hanging rood above the chancel. By the same token he rebuked Walkers for suggesting that there should be radiators in the chancel, something that he strongly objected to.

The Sacred Heart window

The Sacred Heart window

The roof of the baptistry

The roof of the baptistry

All, of course, was not roses. We learn from the letters that Peter Paul became exhausted from all his exertions, travelling up and down to Scotland, and looking after so many projects. A number of times he complained of feeling ‘very seedy’, and he found the hot weather in London ‘very trying and difficult to work in’. From time to time he was forced to take a holiday, writing that ‘I am thankful to say I feel all the better both in mind and body’ and ‘I now feel ready for any amount of work again’. But he could become prickly when his own bills were not paid. He complained on one occasion of how he disliked ‘having to write about money matters and I am very sorry this should arise’. He had reminded Fr O’Bryen that he was due his architect’s commission but this as yet had not been paid. ‘I am asking no favours but simply what is due to me as a matter of business. Kindly attend to this matter without delay. I shall be much obliged’. The message could not be clearer.

One of Peter Paul’s letters with sketch

One of Peter Paul’s letters with sketch

The Pugin Letters reveal the industry of Peter Paul Pugin, a man on a mission. Almost every week Peter Paul wrote to the Rector of St Joseph’s updating him on the progress of the project, asking his opinion on architectural and interior design features, and reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages of different contractors. Peter Paul relied heavily upon his family and business associates to fulfil the task, the good will of patrons such as the Bishop of Liverpool, and the untiring cooperation of clergy and benefactors, and his unstinting efforts have bequeathed a church of breathtaking beauty which, with the help of our Heritage Lottery Grant, will continue to inspire many generations to come.

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A Heroine of the Holocaust

Philip Conner

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Anna Pendlebury, our wonderful organist at St Joseph’s writes: ‘My Great Auntie Mary was a nun from Morecambe who saved Jews during the Holocaust who was honoured more than 15 years after her death.

Sister Maria Antoniazzi, known as Sister Anthony, was intiated into Israel's Righteous Among the Nations at a ceremony in Rome.

She was born Maria Anna Francesca Antoniazzi in Bardi in Piacenza in Northern Italy on November 12, 1900.

She left Morecambe and her father's cafe against his wishes to become a Notre Dame sister shortly before the second world war.(She had to sell her piano to raise money for a dowry to enter the convent!)

The order sent her to a poor part of Rome when war broke out. Under the leadership of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, the convent became one of a network of safehouses in the city.

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Mgr O'Flaherty's wartime experiences were made into a film, The Scarlet and the Black. Sister Anthony's work hiding Jewish children in the school and gardens remained unrecognised, because she had managed to keep it secret from both the Gestapo and the order.

She provided false papers for the children so that they could be smuggled out.

After the war she returned to England and joined the Parbold Notre Dame convent, near Wigan. She never talked to any of the family at any time about her activities during the war, even though Jewish survivors visited her to thank her.

Thanks to pressure from some of the children she saved now living in the US and their determination to track her down, Sister Antoniazzi (Anthony) was awarded this very special honour, which as far as we know has only been awarded to seven other British citizens. Her name is inscribed on the wall of the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, (the pictures below show the medal awarded, the wall on which her name is inscribed and a picture of Sister Antoniazzi at the time and in later life).

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It was a great honour on our recent pilgrimage to the Holy land to visit Yad Vashem and to see her name on the memorial wall in the garden. Thanks to Deacon Stephen and Fr. Philip for going beyond the call of duty to locate and photograph her name and then manage to get back safely to the coach after passing through two check points!!

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Faith of our Fathers

Philip Conner

First design and colour scheme

First design and colour scheme

Some time ago, the parish was left a bequest to develop a shrine dedicated to the fifteen Lancaster Martyrs. Few towns in the world can boast of so many martyrs, and yet we make so little of them. In the first half of the twentieth century, several thousand of the faithful would gather on the martyrs field above the Cathedral to remember those that died in the sixteenth and seventeenth for their love of the Church: priests like Fr Edmund Arrowsmith or Fr Thomas Whittaker, but also simple folk, weavers and yeomen, who hid priests and refused to disavow the faith, and about whom we know precious little else. It’s great to see some good old Lancashire names amongst the martyrs: Wrennall, Thwing, Bamber, Hurst, Nutter, and the like. These are our martyrs, martyrs of the Catholic Church, and they intercede for us, and we can pray to them to ask them for help in our efforts to witness to Christ in our times.

The Transfiguration Secco Icon at the Catholic Chaplaincy, Lancaster University, completed in 2017.

The Transfiguration Secco Icon at the Catholic Chaplaincy, Lancaster University, completed in 2017.

The icon of the Lancaster Martyrs is being written by Martin Earle who assisted in the fresco of the Transfiguration at the University of Lancaster Catholic Chaplaincy (see above). Hopefully it will be with completed by the middle of the Summer, but we thought you would like to see the process by which it is coming into being.

Stained Glass window of St Edmund Arrowsmith in the Cathedral

Stained Glass window of St Edmund Arrowsmith in the Cathedral

At the centre of the tryptych (3-part panel) is an image of the Holy Family: the patron of our parish, St Joseph, with Mary and Jesus. On either side of the tryptych are the martyrs. The priests are identified by their religious garb or the vestments that they wear; they are all holding a different symbol of the 7 sacraments: Fr Bell has a scallop shell around his neck to remind us of baptism (often scallop shells are used to pour water on those that are being baptised), Fr Whitaker is holding the chalice (which is kept at Claughton on Brock parish), representing the Mass, Fr Thules is holding a bottle of oil for Confirmation and for the Last Rites, Fr Bamber is wearing a purple stole for Confession, Fr Arrowsmith is bearing two rings on a cushion, representing marriage, and the fact that he was handed over to his pursuivants by a couple who were not honouring the bond, and Fr Thwing is resting his hand on the shoulder of Fr Nutter with the maniple on his arm, representing Holy Orders.

In time, the finished icon will have red Lancashire roses around the bottom, reminding us of the blood of the martyrs and also the thorns that pierced Jesus in his passion, and there will be representations of local wildlife: curlews, oyster catchers and peewits, all familiar birds to our coastal town, linking the martyrs to us today.

The photos below detail the progress made so far (end of May 2019). Watch this space for further developments…

Beautiful oak being prepared for the back of the panel

Beautiful oak being prepared for the back of the panel

Making the faces of the wood perfectly flat for gluing together

Making the faces of the wood perfectly flat for gluing together

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The panel, including the oak in the back, is made of 12 boards affixed together

The panel, including the oak in the back, is made of 12 boards affixed together

Marking up the arches

Marking up the arches

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Oak battens dovetailed into grooves to make the panel stable

Oak battens dovetailed into grooves to make the panel stable

Fine tuning the battens for a perfect fit

Fine tuning the battens for a perfect fit

Carving out the mouldings and changing the depth of some of the areas by carving the columns and capitals.

Carving out the mouldings and changing the depth of some of the areas by carving the columns and capitals.

Applying the gesso, chalk and rabbit glue - the foundation for the icon.

Applying the gesso, chalk and rabbit glue - the foundation for the icon.

Sanding and polishing.

Sanding and polishing.

On and on. More sanding and polishing.

On and on. More sanding and polishing.

The shrine in site, in St Joseph’s, to the right of the Confessionals. Artists impression.

The shrine in site, in St Joseph’s, to the right of the Confessionals. Artists impression.

In the Footsteps of the Master

Philip Conner

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land

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28 pilgrims set out on an adventure; to boldly go where all Christian humans want to go; even just once! The Holy Land. Here are some highlights of a eight day intensive pilgrimage to this very tactile and very Holy Land. 

Bethlehem 

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Putting you hands in the hand of the man from Galilee. What a fantastic opportunity! So if waking in Bethlehem isn’t awesome enough; we now begin our tour. Bleary eyed, it’s time to face the dawn, and the two hour time difference and get up and going. 

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Just as John the Baptist announced the arrival of Christ, so he does once again- in our time at our pilgrimage beginning. As we battled the first set of unruly pilgrims (from other countries) the Canticle of Zechariah shone out in its wonder; “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, he has visited His people and redeemed them!”. 

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Leaving John’s birthplace we walk for a short while up an ancient hillside, surrounded by terraces of olive groves. Here lies the church of the visitation where a newly pregnant Mary and heavily pregnant Elizabeth meet on the hilltop, witnessed by the sheep and shepherds below. Elizabeth filled with the spirit gives us those words so common to our tongue ‘Blessed art thou amongst women’. The response is cried out from every inch of this church; the great ‘Magnificat’. My soul glorifies the Lord, and this church glorifies creation; her arches, embracing all who enter in that unconditional motherly love, celebrating the bringing forth of new life and the wonder of creation. As it did for John the Baptist, this church also provides sanctuary. Nestled within the lower chapel lies the stone which hid John the Baptist from Herod’s deathly decree. This stone worn by the millions of hands transmits the vibrations from every foot that has crossed this threshold. 

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The next up, the Church of the Nativity and birth place of Christ. Getting to grips with crowds and multinational pilgrims was the task of these long tiring days! As we each move forward for the same purpose, conversations began in the queue. Different nationalities held together by the love of Our Lord. In the chaos that is thousands of pilgrims, the place held grace and peace; overseen eagerly by a zealous Orthodox Monk! Descending into the crypt to see that twelve pronged star, to touch and be in the place where Our Lord came into this world! We were each swept up by sheer disbelief that we are here. The awesomeness of this moment and the place where our God became incarnate and palpable. The wonder and disbelief became real; how did our creator put so much trust in us (His creation) to give us himself as this tiny helpless babe?

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Dinner was spent in the Shepherd’s Field. As a group we sat and discussed the day. Many were overwhelmed by their experiences. As we ate, we wondered what the shepherds of these fields 2000 yrs ago would have eaten. We discussed how far they would be travelling, with their best lambs to arrive at Jerusalem’s temple ready for the Passover. Thousands of lambs would have been slaughtered that day. Imagine that! The temple would look less like a temple of our time, and more like a butchers shop! Our table discussions held the same threads of the others; of wonder and honour and privilege. This faith we believe is real! It comes alive in physical form in front of us. Us mere mortals are being given the opportunity to touch the place of God! 

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Jerusalem 

A new morning brings us to the Wailing Wall at Pesach (Passover) and Sabbath. Here we share a special peaceful moment with the tormented chosen race. Whilst this wall is only the retaining wall of the temple that would have dominated Jerusalem 2000 years ago, it stands tall with stone bricks so large they drown us humans, difficult to climb or to besiege; and steeped with so much history. 

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For the Jews, this wall is beyond sacred. They believe this wall gives them direct access to God and so will come from all over the world to visit this wall. The wall is treated as a temple and before we approach we are separated into male and female, and given the relevant headwear. The atmosphere is quiet, prayerful, friendly, inclusive and relaxed. We edge forward and get to stand alongside our fellow sisters holding and praying at the wall. The wall tells the history of its pain. Over 2000 years later and this wall is still weeping!!!!! It weeps for all it has witnessed; the rise an fall of its people, their holocausts and suffering, their rejection. It also weeps for the troubled land on which it stands. The wall also tells of hope. Into the tiniest of crevices there are papers, prayers of those who have visited. There is a presence far larger than humanity here and as swifts dance with joy above our heads we leave feeling different and elated. This ancient temple isn’t just a holy site for the Jews, but for us Christians too. Here Christ was presented to as a baby; here He got lost and was found teaching and arguing with the priests, here He was condemned.

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From the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, we stopped at Pater Noster - the place where Jesus Christ taught the disciples the Our Father before descending down the Palm Sunday and Passion Route. Along this hillside we take in Dominus Flevit. Here we’re told by the gospels that Jesus wept for Jerusalem; but I’m sure he wept for us all. The view of the city dominated the horizon, the Kidron valley, the city of David. The view reminds us of the endurance of the passion and the lengths Christ went to to free us. Mass was celebrated outside in the garden overlooking the Jerusalem. People passed us, some stopped to sing. Mass outside is always moving and something very special. Jesus wasn’t the only one who wept there! 

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Towards the bottom of the mount, as the sounds and smells of the city begin to fill our senses; we arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane.  The stillness of this garden echos the peace Jesus sought before he faced his passion ahead. As a child when we feel frightened or low, we turned to our parents for refuge. As adults we turn to those around us whom we love and trust. Here Jesus took his friends, his brothers and sisters in faith to a place of refuge. As we touch the stone where Jesus knelt, where in his anguish he sweated blood, we feel the place where Jesus sought the love and guidance of his father.  The All Nations Church was breathtaking! Grace and peace filled the expanse. Here mass was being celebrated in chinese reminding us of the multiple faces of Catholicism. Both the church and the garden filled each of us with overwhelming sadness. Here Jesus witnessed the diminishing hope in humanity. Here He lessened himself so God can do more. Here He began his surrender; giving everything over to the Father out of love for us all. 

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Church of St Peter Gallicantu marks the place of Peter’s denial. It is also the site of Caiaphas palace, where Jesus was lowered down through a narrow opening into a stone pit before being lifted out to be beaten. The stone cell was oppressive. Sitting in the corner you could imagine the eeriness of the darkness, the chaos of the mind and pain of the body, exhausted; not knowing when next you are going to be dragged out to be beaten again. In this place men have been flogged. Ropes mark the places where arms would have been held, the smooth shiny stone below speaks of hundreds of knees dragging as men were flogged, wiped down with salt water and vinegar, before being flogged again. We know that through the long torturous night before his crucifixion, Christ was flogged at The Church of Flagellation tied to stones like these. We know he received over 120 lashes, bearing more than any human could dare. From this point of exhaustion and dehydration he began his passion walk. His torture was present till the very last breath at the ninth hour. Before his last breath, Jesus endured a walk of shame with his cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. He experienced over 18hours of vicious torture to save humanity. Sometimes I wonder if humanity is really worth saving. 

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We followed the Via Dolorosa, ending our stations of the cross at the Holy Sepulchre. This church houses Calvary and the burial place of Christ. Naturally this is the busiest place in the whole of Jerusalem. The jostle to the tomb was hard as not everyone was willing to wait their turn. The Devil certainly had his work cut out here sending people in to jump the queues and push, to make pilgrimages angry. What better way to become disillusioned by Christianity than to see fellow brothers and sister misbehaving in the name of Christ? What better way to try to get us to turn away from the most blessed place of Christianity, the foundation block of our faith. After hours of waiting we were given permission to enter the inner sanctum. Like many other holy places the doorway was tiny. It forces us all to our knees to walk humbly in front of the Lord. Once in the tomb, kneeling in front of it wasn’t really an option. Overwhelmed with emotion and elation, you simply fall to you knees. Here is the birth place of Christianity! Us mortals are here in this immortal place of God!

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Like all the sites in Jerusalem it was hard to find some space to pray and peace, everywhere was bustling and crowded. But watching the sheer numbers of pilgrims visiting is a prayer in itself. This is a Holy Land and pilgrims will flock from all four corners of the globe to be here! 8 pilgrims set out on an adventure; to boldly go where all Christian humans want to go; even just once! The Holy Land. Here are some highlights of a eight day intensive pilgrimage to this very tactile and very Holy Land. 

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Here is the second part of this two part series; Christ be beside me as we walk the hill towns and shores of Galilee.. 

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Before heading north to Galilee we journeyed to the desert. A barren place, where it’s easy to lose hope and faith. Jesus spent forty days and forty nights out here. Our visit to Masada wasn’t that long, yet under the relentless oppressive heat, we left exhausted and slightly crispy. It’s hard to find any spiritual grounding here, but then, that’s what the desert is. Even the psalmist cries: 

“Oh God, you are my God, my body pines for you, like a dry weary land without water” (Psalm 62/63). Floating in the Dead Sea 420 meters below sea level, soon brought us back down to earth, and revived our senses before we continued on. 

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Nazareth

Does anything good come out of Nazareth? Well we all know plenty does! The Church of the Annunciation illuminated the idea that Mary, whist in essence is the same, her image differs in different nationalities. She truly is a mother to all people’s! Next door stood Joseph’s workshop. In-between both, a statue of Joseph and a Indian Banyan Tree. The statue was fascinating, as the back of it portrayed Joseph being supported by angels. He apparently spoken to Angels quite a bit in his lifetime. For me, finding an Indian banyan tree in the midst of the most important parents of humanity reminded me of my home, my heritage, and my parents; the merging peoples, religions and lands. In India these are sacred trees which symbolise immortality. Hindu temples are often built to incorporate these trees. What a perfect place for a very special and quite rare (in these parts) tree. 

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Cana 

‘We’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married’... 

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How we all laughed at the prospect of going to Cana. Expecting a ‘Vegas wedding chapel’; we  got something altogether classier. Cana; the place of the first miracle, where Mary asked Jesus to transform the water into the wine. Here we saw the stone urns that stood larger that the average man of today. There were six, and each held 20-30 gallons. How I wished I’d been at that wedding! But their wedding joy became ours. Standing alongside 3 other couples I renewed my wedding vows with my husband, with my pilgrim friends and God as our witness. We thanked God for the gift of our marriage asked for support in those difficult times.

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Galilee’s shores!

Imagine sitting on the shores of the calm Sea of Galilee at sunrise and saying morning office. Looking out over the vast waters, with the joy of dawn chorus and the swifts working, dipping up and down to get their own breakfast. 

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‘O the works of the Lord or bless the Lord, the sun, the sea, all creatures of the sea, birds of the air, O bless the Lord’.. The Canticle of Daniel cries out that God is here in all that surrounds us. He sends the birds to sing, the sun to us warm us, the wildlife and flowers to capture our wonder. To say it was magical is an understatement.  Jesus and his followers would have done this, saying these ancient prayers on these shores. As I look up and look across the waters into the rising light, I can imagine Him walking across the water; apparently he walked across the full width (approx 5 miles) to Jordan. I wonder if my faith is strong enough to walk across these waters as Jesus and Peter did. Can I go into the deep waters and focus only on Him? I’d love to think I could. But for now, I settled with being able to swim, not once but twice, in the incredible Sea of Galilee! 

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Capernaum

On the shores of Galilee stands Capernaum, the town where Jesus’s would settle, Peter’s hometown. Situated on the main highway, people would pass through here and would stop and listen to Jesus preaching. It is documented that in the synagogues; He read and taught with authority. Here Jesus met the man with the demons who asked ‘what are you going to do with us Messiah?‘. Here too, He healed the servant of the centurion and we get our communion prayer from ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof’. Jesus responded that he had never seen such faith in all of Israel! In Capernaum Jesus chose all of his disciples, preaching that we must be like children if we are to enter kingdom of heaven.

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Mount of beatitudes

Above the Sea of Galilee stands a mound, the Mount of the Beatitudes. Sitting on an ancient rock on the mount overlooking the valleys, hills and Sea of Galilee, I closed my eyes and listened. Amongst the birdsong, there was music. Hymns being sung and mass celebrated in different languages. 

‘Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are those who hunger for what is right.. come all who are thirsty.. ‘

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This was the place of Jesus’s most famous sermon of love and peace. If Jesus was assumed to be ordinary man, he was a man who changed the world; not with an army or force, power or might, but with love. He was not a worldly king but a king nonetheless. Some say the beatitudes are a self portrait of Christ. If he can forgive all then so should we. As I walked, a music worm sang in my head echoing, “All who are thirsty....come to the fountain, dip your heart in the stream of life.. come Lord Jesus come. Holy Spirit come”

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Magdala 

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Sunday mass was celebrated in Magdala IN A BOAT on the shores of Galilee. Imagine, reading from a boat, preaching from a boat, being fed from a boat!! During the sermon the boat ‘spiritually’ launched 

 “YOU ARE ALL MY DISCIPLES! I AM HERE. I will be with you, always!”. 

This beautiful place is just being discovered by pilgrims, and this stunning new church celebrates not only the life of Mary of Magdala, the first female apostle, but all women of the gospels. Not far from Magdala, on the top of a hill stands the Church of multiplication, where the feeding 5000 men took place under the shade of the Olive groves.

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The pilgrimage route progressed and we left Galilee behind just for a short while. In the distance a high mountain.. Mount Tabor, the mount of the transfiguration. Standing on this mountain we get to look down at the beauty of the land below, the land that stretches on and on to Jordan, overshadowed by Mount Herman (Israel’s highest peak). Above us migrating birds find the thermals and soar, others in the flock falling back to let others lead and save energy. It’s natures perfectly engineered team, something often so lacking in today’s world of competition. Yet here, love of our fellow human is what we’re here to remember and like those birds, there are times when we are weak and others step forward to carry us. Likewise, we will also carry them! Mass was celebrated in a newly built glass chapel outside of the basilica. Light streamed in renewing and transforming our souls. It was a small intimate setting; us and our Lord Jesus. The gardens surrounding the Basilica exuded peace and tranquility; a stark contrast to the single track snake road that took us to the hilltop driven by suicide taxi drivers! 

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Caesarea Philippi.

Still in under the guard of Mount Herman we travel, stopping at our most northern spot, Golan Heights. Today this often a troubled place due to political unrest, this the Israeli- Syrian border.

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Yet, our visit to this most beautiful nature reserve of Israel shone in its peace! Glacial waters tumbled from the snowy peaks of the high mountains, bringing fresh life to Israel and forming one of the three springs of the River Jordan. These ancient hills and springs will have provided the water for John the Baptist’s ministry and the Baptism of Christ! 

For us Christians reading the bible, we know this place by another name- Caesarea Philippi. Here the Lord asks Peter- ‘Who do you say I am?’. A simple question with a ground breaking response! The other disciples stated John the Baptist ,a prophet, but Peter knew and professed: 

 “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” You are the Messiah! You are the chosen one that scriptures foretold. 

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At that point Peter became the rock, on which the church was built. Even though his faith was so strong, and he knew the Lord well, Peter’s faith still wavered. In the pressure and fear for his own life, this rock breaks, three times; denying our Lord at his passion. As with all the disciples, broken-hearted and ashamed, he returns to his old life, the familiar life of fishing after his Lord is crucified. 

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But Peters story doesn’t end there. In fact, on this shores around Galilee he picks up his cross and begins a ministry that will defy all, but first he needs to recognise that the man on the shore making him breakfast. The man by the fire, breaking and blessing fish and bread is his Lord and he needs to answer three more questions..  ‘Peter, do you love me?’. On these shores of Galilee the Lord gave Peter his Primacy asking him to ‘lead my sheep, feed my sheep’. Those words, ‘Do you love me?’ are as haunting and accurate today to us as to Peter 2000 years ago, ‘Do you love me?’; a mantra for us all to answer every moment of every day. 

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Serving our Community

Philip Conner

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Last December we started to support needy families in our area; we donated food and toys for Melbourne Food Club members. Since then we have been donating food on a regular basis for which we say thank you again to everybody. We would like to invite the food club members to our church for Easter lunch on Wednesday 3 April from 12 noon til 1pm. This will be another great opportunity to show our commitment to help as well as make our relationship more personal with the food club members. We would appreciate your valuable contribution to achieve our aim and make Easter full of joy and happiness for everyone. We are looking for volunteers who can help buy and deliver food, prepare lunch and welcome people as well as take part in the lunch. Everybody's work and time are much appreciated!

From spring we will be running a clothes donation service for families struggling in our area. Parents will have the chance to swap good quality clean children clothes from birth to age four. All clothes donations and help are welcome.

Should you have any questions about the programmes or you would like to volunteer for the Easter lunch or for our clothes donation service, please see Zsuzsanna, our outreach coordinator on st.josephslancaster@yahoo.co.uk

Restoring our Church

Philip Conner

The church, upon its completion in 1901.

The church, upon its completion in 1901.

Last year, the parish was delighted to receive the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded St Joseph’s Catholic Church a grant. Made possible by National Lottery players, the grant will support a project to renew the fabric of this historic building and make it more accessible to the wider community. Only last year, the Church, which is a Grade II listed building designed by the famous Pugin family and boasting some unique Gillow furnishings, was placed on the National Buildings at Risk Register. The Grant will help to galvanise local support to preserve this unique building in the lives of the people of Skerton and beyond.

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More than one hundred years on from its foundation, St Joseph’s church is facing problems that are besetting much of our national Victorian heritage. Recent architectural surveys have revealed structural faults in the Tower, and damp ingression caused by corrosion of the external masonry and damage to the spouts and guttering. Development funding of £15,700 has been awarded to St Joseph’s to help to ascertain where the difficulties lie and to explore ways in which to address them. Plans will also be developed to make the church more accessible with disabled access and facilities, and ways will be explored to make the church open throughout the whole year so that people can enjoy the beauty and tranquillity that the church provides. These development plans will enable St Joseph’s to apply for a full grant at a later date.

Drones with cameras were used to help with the topographical survey

Drones with cameras were used to help with the topographical survey

Parish Priest, Fr Philip Conner, says that the wider parish community is delighted to have received support thanks to National Lottery players. ‘The project is the fruit of much hard work from our parish finance and property committee, and reflects the desire of our parish to reach out to the wider community, to welcome people of every age, background and nationality, and to find ways to serve the particular needs of Skerton. It is our desire’, Fr Conner explained, ‘that St Joseph’s, once restored to its former glory, will continue to serve as a beacon of hope for many generations to come: a place of rest for all people in this busy world, a place to enjoy the beauty and history, prayer and silence, and warmth and friendship that St Joseph’s offers’.

Protective gear required for the clearance of pigeon guano from the tower

Protective gear required for the clearance of pigeon guano from the tower

Already a group within the parish has been looking at ways to involve as wide a group as possible in the fundraising and the development of outreach with the local schools, the university, musicians and artists, other churches and religious groups, local heritage groups, and of course, its faithful parishioners who hold amongst themselves a rich tapestry of memories and experiences associated with the church. ‘The great thing about this Grant’, Fr Conner added, ‘is that it provides an opportunity to generate a sense of local pride in what we have, a sense of community, and a sense of hope as people learn new skills and take up the new opportunities that we hope will emerge from this venture’.

Have you ever wondered what is beneath your feet? The drainage survey unearthed all sorts of interesting things...

Have you ever wondered what is beneath your feet? The drainage survey unearthed all sorts of interesting things...

Towards the end of last year there has been a raft of preliminary investigations so that we can develop our plans. There seems to have been an endless stream of surveys: bat surveys, asbestos surveys, drainage surveys, topographical surveys, structural surveys, pigeon guano surveys... Additionally, the Parish Social Committee has been organising a number of fundraising initiatives to help to support the project and to bring the wider community on board. Plans are now lodged with Historic Churches Committee and are available for inspection.

Enlisting the support of Buzz Lightyear and Fireman Sam for the parish fair and fundraising initiatives!

Enlisting the support of Buzz Lightyear and Fireman Sam for the parish fair and fundraising initiatives!

The Pope in Arabia

Philip Conner

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Last week, Pope Francis was the first Pontiff ever to visit the Arabian Peninsula. Some of our parishioners, the Ellis family, currently live in the UAE and were privileged to attend the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi. Here, Mark Ellis recounts an unforgettable day…

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“Tuesday 5th February 2019 was an extraordinary day in the short history of the United Arab Emirates. The visit of His Holiness Pope Francis culminated in an open air mass attended by over 170,000 people. Interestingly, the local media here reported that at least 5,000 of those attending were Muslims. This year has been designated as ‘the year of tolerance’ in the UAE and the Papal visit was certainly a high profile event to get things started!

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In comparison to other Gulf nations, the UAE has a fairly liberal approach to religious tolerance and Christians of all denominations are permitted to practice their faith. However, this is usually restricted to churches and this was the first time that mass had been held in such a public arena. Many of the faithful travelled from other countries as well as the far corners of the UAE and some arrived at the venue at midnight, more than 10 hours before the Holy Father was due to arrive. Such commitment was quite humbling I can tell you.

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We set off from our home in Dubai at 4.30am for the relatively short drive to Abu Dhabi. We arrived at the stadium just as the sun was beginning to rise. You would be surprised at how cold it can be here in the UAE at this time of year but the huge crowds were cheerful and orderly as we queued to enter the venue.

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During the long wait we were kept busy by the choirmaster who organized the 50, 000 inside the stadium as well as the 120,000 outside in rehearsing the selected hymns. Then, at 10am, Pope Francis arrived, waving happily from the Pope mobile which made steady progress around the whole area allowing virtually everybody to get a good view of him. The mass itself featured contributions in the many languages of the UAE; English, Arabic, Tagalog, Malayalam and Urdu so there was something for everyone. The gospel could not have been more appropriate; the sermon on the mount!

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By 12.30pm it was all over and people started to drift away back to normality having been part of an extraordinary, unforgettable event. The Pope left for Rome within hours but his three day visit certainly left an impression. The school where I work, like all schools across the whole UAE, was closed for two days in recognition of the importance of the visit. Muslim friends, colleagues and students have been prompted to ask me questions about my faith which showed a genuine respect and an attempt to find common ground which can only possibly be a good thing.

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We said a prayer for everyone at St. Joseph’s and I’m pretty sure the Holy Father knew that we were there!

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Song for Unity

Philip Conner

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The Feast of the Conversion of St Paul on 25 January 2019 provided the opportunity for a music-filled evening led by a worship band formed by uniting musicians from different Christian denominations. Part of our efforts, spurred on by the support of Heritage Lottery Funding, has been to spread the net out and invite new people into our church to experience its beauty, its candlelit atmosphere and the wonderful acoustic that it has. The attendees included representatives from Christian communities from across Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth. Promotional packs and invite letters were hand delivered to each of the 40+ Christian churches across our locality, followed by an email the week before the event. The band consisted of a mix of musicians from St Thomas’s Lancaster (Anglican), Carnforth Free Methodist, Lancaster University Chaplaincy and St Joseph’s RC Church. 

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Here, the organiser, Lisa Vallente-Osbourne writes of the night:

Tonight we did something very special. With the grace and trust of God, we opened the doors of our catholic church as widely as possible and invited all Christian communities of Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth in. We asked them to have faith in us, and come and worship and pray with us. Using music as a common medium, we effectively met each and everyone of our fellow brothers and sisters halfway, using worship music as our language; a common denominator in which we unite in faith. It’s always been easy for us to compare ourselves against other denominations/religions and see our differences. These are the characteristics that have divided us for so long. Tonight’s challenge was to focus us on contemplating on what unites us- Our Lord and Saviour. 

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He who sings, prays twice- is a famous saying from St Augustine. What did he mean? That our voices are gifts from God, which we can give back by making music for the Lord! Yes- He, Our Lord wants to hear our voices; not just the words of our mind!

Singing has been a prayer of the generations. The bible is filled with joy or even angry songs of prayer, just open to book of psalms, or read a canticle! Even Mary Our Mother had a song in her heart the moment she gave her ‘fiat’ to the Angel Gabriel. ‘My soul praises the Lord- he has looked in his lowly servant’... 

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 Why choose worship music? Well for a start it’s the language of our fellow Christians. But also, worship music is moving more into the catholic realms. Over the years, it’s changed from the old ‘kum-by-yah’ and moved into the realms or Hillsong, Bethel, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad- music. 

In his divine renovation book- Fr James Mallon - asks us to consider incorporating worship music; once it’s past the ‘Brenda’ test! But worship music has changed from simply praising the Lord, and now includes depths of scripture, and dialogue. 

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Worship songs are lyrically driven; repetitive and easy to learn. Whilst they may be considered by some as inferior to traditional hymns, they speak the language of today. When you listen to worship music, something miraculous happens. Like a lot of contemporary music, it gets stuck in your head and plays its catchy-tunes over and over. With worship music, this becomes a grace filled prayer! Yes- the ear worm singing to you over an over sings you a prayer; reminding you of the love our Lord has for you when you are doing the mundane in life.. washing up, running the kids to school.. in your dreams!! 

In a world where people are turning away from religion because ‘it’s not relevant’ or  ‘it’s boring’; worship music bridges a the gap and speaks to people at their level. Music once again gets the freedom to become a living and breathing soul-felt prayer, and what a beautiful one it truly can be! 

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Look where the youth of today are, look at the youth rallies, World Youth Day and Youth 2000 - here you find thousands upon thousands of believers newly budding in their faith. Here you also find worship music- a way for them to express themselves when may simply can’t find their own words. Worship music in its essence teaches us to pray; when we are unsure, or simply just a bit lost.  

I’m not suggesting we throw the traditional music out. Instead, consider a unity of old and new. Worship music incorporates seamlessly into Mass; providing words and hope when we can’t pray. It nestles well with traditional hymns, and gives these an injection of new life and energy. We love rocking up, or ‘going gospel’ on ‘’Be thou my vision’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. 

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It’s energy is infectious. It’s revitalising and driven by grace and hope. It’s gives the congregation a diverse array of music language to speak, and encourages all generations to join in - yes I said join in; and find your voice! 

 Tonight we used music as a medium to reflect on  the life of St. Paul- since today was his feast day. Saul, the fervent persecutor of the early Christian church has a direct encounter with God. A man, so far from Christianity, becomes one of the the most vocal and inspiring Christian’s of the bible.. Saul- becomes Paul- the Apostle. 

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We considered the stages of St Paul’s life, the stoning of St Stephen, the conversation on the road to Damascus, the desert years and finally his preaching and martyrdom. Structuring the music around these times, we built a tapestry of mediations considering what would Paul be feeling at this time? What might God be saying to Him? How might he approach this? 

We used the life of St Paul and his scriptural teachings to speak to our hearts. How did St. Paul react to God’s message; how are we expected to react.

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Bishop Paul explained that grace is a gift from God. It’s a gift quite unique in that it’s not one we keep and hold onto, own and posses; but instead it’s something that we share to our fellow brothers and sisters, families and communities. It’s in this sharing that Grace and love increases.. 

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 I must admit, the night before the event , rehearsing in the colour changing stage lights, or during fully kitted our sound checks; with our sound engineer , I feared we may have pushed the boundaries too far. The devil certainly has his work cut out, as we gained and lost a handful of key musicians ten days before the event. Even on the night, the laptops refused to work for the big screen projector, and two of the student band members got a late lock in, in a lab of which they weren’t permitted to leave till their practical complete. They got to sound check 10 minutes before we kicked off the event! But all went well, and we loved being of this. 

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 We were all so grateful to have the company of Bishop Paul Swarbrick. He joined us for this event, opening and closing with spoken prayers and blessings. He talked hopefully about the healing an event like this provides. Together as local neighboourhood of Christians we stood, together as Christians we sang, prayed and shook hands! Together united as parts of that one body as Christians we prayed Our Lord’s Prayer. Together as Christians we began a dialogue of curiosity looking as each others ways of faith and understanding them more. 

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Eucharistic Congress

Philip Conner

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Amy Gadoud writes: ‘Bernie Speakman and I were delighted to be St Joseph’s of Lancaster parish representatives for the Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool. It was an amazing opportunity especially as the last Eucharistic Congress in England was held in 1908. Unfortunately, on that occasion, it was not possible to carry the Blessed Sacrament in public procession through the streets, so we were even more blessed this time.

The first day was a Symposium Day with keynote lectures and breakout sessions. It was badged as the more academic day but we found the sessions accessible and illuminating. We were joined by Sally Lee and Sandra Smith from St Joseph’s primary school. Sally was frantically making notes and smiling, clearly inspired. “This is my assembly on Friday… “  Since then they have organised Eucharistic Adoration at the school and the inspirations from the day will be felt throughout the school.  Bernie especially enjoyed an ecumenical session on the Eucharist and its meaning to our Christian brothers and sisters.

 The second day was the Main Congress Day at Liverpool Arena. We were delighted to be joined by my Dad and sister and my son was at a parallel youth event and joined by about 10,000 other delegates. It was an a truly inspiring experience for so many Catholics to be gathered together. We also enjoyed viewing all the different habits and religious dress. 

The highlights of this day were two amazing keynote addresses from Bishop Barron on the Mass and paths to holiness. His style is phenomenal. He can describe the truths of Catholicism in an engaging and meaningful way. The videos of his talk are available and if you do one thing following reading this report I would encourage you to watch these talks.

The day ended with Eucharistic Adoration and we were led in prayer by Cardinal Nichols and led the tone for the procession the next day.

 The final day was the Pilgrimage Day. We started the day rushing to the station, but my sister was on time for the 9.30am Mass and Bernie and I attended at 11.30. We took the time before Mass to attend the Eucharistic Congress exhibition (well half of it) and are encouraging Fr Philip to host the exhibition in Lancaster.

A truly wonderful and uplifting Mass concelebrated with more bishops and priests than I have ever seen in my life. Special mention to the choir and altar servers who did Liverpool proud. We ended the day with a Eucharistic procession; the rain did not put us off, and my sister blamed the rain on my singing but we all including the tone deaf joined in the hymns. The sun came out for Benediction and we all left Liverpool wet but blessed.

On Tuesday 23 October we were delighted to feedback the main highlights of the events to the parish. As well as presentations from Bernie Speakman, Leo Gadoud  Bishop Barron (via Youtube) and I  we had group discussions and a time of prayer about how we could take the fruits of the Congress further.

We would like to thank the Bishop’s conference for organising the event, Fr Philip and the parish for the opportunity to be the parish representative and my sister Jennifer Mclaughlin for her wonderful hospitality. 

The Fun of the Fair

Philip Conner

This year the parish has been working hard to bring everyone together and to open up the parish to the wider community. There have been a number of events to help to fundraise for our church restoration work which is taking place with the support of Heritage Lottery Funding. We have been organising afternoon teas, bringing together some of the more elderly and housebound in the local community.

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There have also been barbeques and the parish fair, which, despite the sodden weather, brought everyone together and raised over £1000 with stalls and fun activities.

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Let’s not forget too our ever popular Meal of Nations, this year attended by 17 different nationalities, celebrating our diversity as a community and the gift of one another and everyone’s rich baking traditions.

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Year of Grace

Philip Conner

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Looking back through 2018 we give thanks to God for many wonderful moments, and especially those moments that brought our young people into a closer encounter with the Lord through the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Over the Year Fr Philip and Deacon Stephen have christened over fifty children, welcoming them all into God’s family. Baptisms are always joyful occasion, bringing together all the family.

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Time flies. No sooner are the children christened, before it is time for them to be united to the Lord in Holy Communion. This year Sally Lee and Sandra Smith prepared fourteen children for their First Communion, and the sun shone…

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And Confirmations were celebrated with young people from across the Deanery with our new Bishop, Rt Revd Paul Swarbrick, at the Cathedral of St Peter’s Lancaster.

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And later on in life, adults receive special sacraments to help them to live their vocation. This year we celebrated seven weddings at St Joseph’s.

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In addition, to all these great celebrations, we were delighted that one of our parishioners, Katherine, has now been clothed as a nun at Carmel monastery in Wales. We are relying always on her prayers, and she remains close to us in our hearts too.


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It is impossible to capture all the beautiful moments of this year. But, as usual, the celebration of Easter and St Joseph’s hosted our Deanery Corpus Christi Procession, the first for a long, long time.

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Crib Makeover

Philip Conner

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Last year Fr Philip preached about the crib at Christmas. He was speaking of how God became small, entering into our not-so-perfect world. He mentioned in his homily that he had been helping to set up the crib in the church and noticed that many of the figures had broken necks, chipped feet and hands, damaged paintwork, the angels had broken wings and even the baby Jesus was covered with bandaging. Fr Philip explained that Jesus had entered into our broken world, and even took our brokenness onto himself, and became broken himself in the gift of his body and blood, in the gift of himself on the Cross. The homily clearly touched a chord, and out of nowhere, donations began to flood into the church for the restoration of the figures. A company called Lewis & Lewis came to pick up the figures, repaired them and repainted them. They discovered that the figures of Mary and Joseph were from Bavarian workshops and were over one hundred years old. Today we are able to present a selection of photos of before and after the restoration work. I am sure you will be delighted at the result and at the craftsmanship of Jeanette & David Lewis.

Broken Bodies

Ouch! Shepherd with a broken neck

Ouch! Shepherd with a broken neck

Lame and limbless!

Lame and limbless!

No flying for this angel!

No flying for this angel!

Fractured wrist, not good for blessings!

Fractured wrist, not good for blessings!

Earlier in the year, the figures made a trip to Liverpool, all wrapped up in foam for their journey…

Beats a donkey anytime!

Beats a donkey anytime!

Jeanette and David then got to work with the statues and restored them to their pristine condition and toned down some garish painting.

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St Joseph’s would like to thank all those who donated so generously to the restoration of the crib figures, and to David and Jeanette for doing such a great job. It is wonderful to see the levels of their skill and artisanship. The crib set will be shortly set up again for the coming of the nativity of the Lord and the celebration of Christmas.

Following on from the crib work, the parish also restored the processional statue of Our Lady which was used by the children in their May procession. Again, we thought you might like to look at the photos.

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‘Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?’ Sg of Sg 6:10

‘Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?’ Sg of Sg 6:10

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What a transformation!

Pilgrimage to Fatima

Philip Conner

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On Monday 2nd April 2018 pilgrims from Lancaster, Whitehaven and Fleetwood gathered together for the trip to Fátima.

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We were met in Portugal by a very knowledgeable guide called Nelson, who educated us all on the trees in Portugal, the history associated with the ancient monuments and monasteries of Portugal, and most, importantly the incredible story surrounding the apparitions.

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Our hotel was only a 5 minute walk away from the Sanctuary where every evening at 9.30 the international Rosary was said in the Chapel of Apparitions followed by the torchlight procession.

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Day 2 we visited Alijustrel, the little village where the 3 shepherd children lived, played and tendered their sheep. We were then taken to the parish church where they were baptised, went to Mass and spent their time talking to the hidden Jesus (in the Tabernacle). Sr. Lucia’s niece who is 98yrs old still lives in this little village.

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Day 3 was spent visiting Batalha Monastery, Cistercian Monastery at Alcobaca and Nazare which had a beautiful beach and rolling sea.

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Day 4 was a free day, with the option of doing the stations of the cross led by Fr. John. This was thought provoking and a time for personal reflection.

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Day 5 our last day and it rained heavily. On our way to Lisbon we stopped off at Belem, visited St. Jerome Monastery and our last Mass was said in the beautiful church of St. Anthony. It was also our last chance to taste the pastries that Portugal had to offer.

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We made new friends, enjoyed talking and listening to each other but we all had one thing in common, our faith. The Angel of Peace that appeared to the children asked them to say this prayer, “ My God, I believe, I Adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore and do not love You” Maybe we could say this prayer daily?

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Trip to Stonyhurst

Philip Conner

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A group from the parish headed across the Trough of Bowland to visit the archives and special collections at Stonyhurst College. Stonyhurst has a long Catholic history, reaching back into Recusant times and has been involved in Catholic education for many centuries. Amongst its alumnae are several saints and beatified men. Through the centuries, the school gathered an array of beautiful books and objects which brought our faith alive. We were warmly welcomed by Jan Graffius, the curator of the collections, who gave us a wonderful tour of the collections and told us about the history and life of the school.

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The prayer book of Mary Queen of Scots

The prayer book of Mary Queen of Scots

The visit to Stonyhurst was concluded with a very pleasant pub lunch at the Bayley Arms.

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Called Beyond

Philip Conner

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This past Autumn St Joseph’s parish was chosen to pioneer a new national initiative from the National Vocations Office, Called Beyond. The aim of the week’s event was to build up a momentum within the parish, helping everyone to realise that we all have vocations. By emphasising the universal vocation to holiness, we were challenged to see how the ordinary everyday lives that we lead are in fact charged with the grandeur of God. By raising the sense of universal vocation within a particular parish, the National Vocations Office hope that the initiative will in turn encourage people to see their lives in terms of a vocation, something calling them beyond themselves. Surely it is in nurturing this desire to listen to what God is calling each one of us to that our communities will become seedbeds for vocations to the priesthood, religious life and marriage, and that we will all grow together in the call to holiness.

Hyning Hall Monastery

Hyning Hall Monastery

After much planning, St Joseph’s organised a series of events each evening over the course of a week, beginning with Mass, sometimes in different locations, followed by a time of hospitality and fellowship, and a short talk. Each of the talks reflected a different vocation. Besides a parish celebration on the feast of All Saints which focussed upon the universal call to holiness, one evening offered testimony from three marriages, exploring what it meant ‘for better, for worse… till death do us part’. Another evening was held in the beautiful and serene setting of Hyning Hall where Sr Michaela spoke of life in the cloister. Sr Michaela shared her life as a Bernardine Cistercian sister and Frances Dawbarn spoke of her call to share something of the Cistercian life as a lay oblate in the outside world. On the final night, three priests and a deacon spoke of their vocations to Holy Orders and revealed something of what lay behind the collar.

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There were many laughs, and many incredibly inspiring stories, but above all, we were all left feeling as if there was much to ponder. What surprised many was the idea that we all had a vocation. What surprised others was how similar many of the struggles were between being a priest, a married person and a nun, the revelation that we were all poor human beings, struggling to hear the call of the Lord in everyday life.

Called Beyond was a great parish event, bringing together many people. The parish was so grateful to the organising committee who had spent time with the National Vocations Team, preparing for the occasion, putting together the programme, organising publicity and social media, displays and even a set of trump cards. The parish was also grateful to the choir and servers for helping us to raise our minds and hearts to God in celebration of Mass, our youth group for preparing a play for the All Saints celebration, the many parishioners who prepared food and refreshments, and all our intrepid speakers who shared their lives with such inspiration.

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A Great Discovery

Philip Conner

The bookcase which holds within it many secrets...

The bookcase which holds within it many secrets...

Anyone entering St Joseph’s church will have to walk around a tall cross, surrounded by bedding plants in the front garden. It marks the burial ground of Margaret Coulston (1823-1909) – a woman of considerable means and a woman without whom there would be no St Joseph’s church, no Presbytery, and no St Joseph’s school. A small photo taken of her towards the end of her life shows her to be a formidable woman.

Margaret Coulston

Margaret Coulston

Margaret’s family wealth had accrued through the nineteenth century through land acquisitions, and through dividends from her family's banking and railway shares. With the death of her brother, Margaret became the sole heiress to this fortune. She outlived her seven siblings, one of whom was a priest, another was a Carmelite nun (Mother Mary Francis - more on her and her influence later), and another died in the Austrian Army in 1833.

Prayer card of Our Lady of Mount Carmel holding out towards her scapulars, a saint to whom Margaret Coulston had great devotion.

Prayer card of Our Lady of Mount Carmel holding out towards her scapulars, a saint to whom Margaret Coulston had great devotion.

Another line of business for the Coulston family had been the tanning trade. Using land which had been the Syke Tanyard, Margaret commissioned Pugin to design the school-chapel in 1896, before having her own house (the present presbytery) built in 1898 and St Joseph’s church in 1901.

Amongst the books at St Joseph’s, a young parishioner called Carina, recently found a copy of Margaret Coulston’s prayer journal. From the outside it was indistinguishable from the other books on the shelf, but upon opening it, the young person found a treasure trove of prayers and devotions, all beautifully written with quill and ink, which reveal much of Margaret’s spiritual life, and giving us a unique insight into the strength of faith of this woman who desired to give everything she had to the service of God and the building up of His Kingdom.

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Margaret had a particular devotion to Venerable Mother Margaret Mostyn (see above), perhaps on account that this abbess shared her own name, but more likely on account of the fact that her sister, Mother Mary Francis Coulston, was a successor in Darlington to the Venerable Margaret Mostyn. Margaret Mostyn’s life takes us back to the dark times of repression and persecution for Catholics. Her indomitable faith led her on an eventful journey via Weymouth and Le Havre to Antwerp, leaving the shores of England in the mid-seventeeth century in order to found a Carmelite community in Lierre in the Netherlands which remained there until times when it was possible to found the house in England. Mother Margaret Mostyn had many mystical experiences and visions, and her fortitude in the face of persecution and faith in times of adversity was clearly an inspiration to Margaret Coulston, especially at a time when Catholicism was attempting to re-establish itself in Lancaster, long renowned for its execution of Catholic priests and people.

Lace prayer cards were very popular in nineteenth-century France, and beautifully made, and, like this one in Margaret Coulston's journal, hand-coloured. 'I am the servant of the Lord', the quotation reads.

Lace prayer cards were very popular in nineteenth-century France, and beautifully made, and, like this one in Margaret Coulston's journal, hand-coloured. 'I am the servant of the Lord', the quotation reads.

Within Margaret Coulston’s prayer journal, there is clear evidence of the powerful influence of her Carmelite sister’s spirituality with a transcription of the Carmelite Rule and the history of the Lierre community together with a litany to St Teresa of Avila. The European background of the Darlington Carmel is shown by a wealth of quotations from many northern European saints who would have been popular in the Netherlands and continued to be so with the Carmelites in Northern England: St Gertrude of Helfta and St Mechtilde of Magdeborg who both fostered devotion to the holy souls in Purgatory. Indeed the Sacred Heart side altar at St Joseph’s has a statue of St Gertrude to remind us to pray for the holy souls.

In the journal, there is also evidence of the influence of English convert Fr Frederick William Faber of the Brompton Oratory and Faith of our Fathers fame and many of the traditional devotions to the sacred infancy of Jesus, the passion and wounds of Christ, the sorrows of Mary, the Sacred Heart, the Divine Will, together with a novena to St Mary Magdalene, excerpts from the writings of St Francis Xavier and St Jean-Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, litanies to the angels, prayers of offering and consecration, prayers for the conversion of England, and prayers for virtues, particularly that of humility. Of particular significance to Margaret Coulston are prayers to prepare oneself for a happy death.

Prayer card for a happy death, based on the seven last words of Our Lord on the Cross. How spooky is the skull and crossbones - but the Victorians had a much more overt relationship with death than we do today.

Prayer card for a happy death, based on the seven last words of Our Lord on the Cross. How spooky is the skull and crossbones - but the Victorians had a much more overt relationship with death than we do today.

In the Journal, there is even a special prayer for the parish priest, which I can only recommend: ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord, I beseech thee to adorn his soul with all those virtues which form a holy priest. Grant to him the faith of St Peter, the charity of St Paul, the zeal of St Charles, the firmness of St John Chrysostom, the evangelical liberty of St Ambrose, the piety of St Bernard, the penitential spirit of David, the amiableness of St Francis de Sales, the humility of St Vincent of Paul. Direct him in all his actions that after being here a prudent and faithful dispenser of thy mysteries that he may receive from thee that bright crown reserved for a priest whose whole life has been consecrated to thy glory, to the salvation of souls, and to his own sanctification. Amen’.

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And finally, and mysteriously, one of the things that dropped out of the journal when it was first examined, was a prayer card (first edition), with a picture of Blessed John Bosco, who was beatified in 1929. I wonder what our four-legged friend would make of that, all these years later?

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And so, when you pass that cross on the way into the church, pause and spare a moment to pray for Margaret Coulston, our benefactress, and thank God for her kindness and generosity which has done so much to help to build up God’s kingdom in Skerton. And may we be inspired by her example to commit ourselves to a life of prayer and almsgiving, devotion and service to those around us. 

Eternal Rest, grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.

Translation: From the Crib, He will teach us to suffer with him so that we are able to triumph with him.

Translation: From the Crib, He will teach us to suffer with him so that we are able to triumph with him.

Krakow Pilgrimage

Philip Conner

Sitting comfortably on our Ryanair flight! Anna is polishing up on her Polish!

Sitting comfortably on our Ryanair flight! Anna is polishing up on her Polish!

In the week of Divine Mercy, a group from the parish ventured to Poland. Most of us were expecting some Spring sunshine, but icy winds were blowing across the Silesian prairies, and snow banked up on the exposed hillsides. But nothing dampened the hearts of our merry band of pilgrims. The pilgrimage was not always easy to bear. On our first day we lived once again the experience of the cross, visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz. Despite the darkness of that place, it was wonderful to be able to pray at the cell of St Maximilian Kolbe and to remember that love could never be totally extinguished, even in that dark hellhole. Our hearts were revived by visiting the shine of the Divine Mercy where we learnt about the apparitions of Our Lord to St Faustina, and a visit to the shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa where we were able to entrust all our prayers and intentions before the Blessed Mother. The experience of pilgrimage is a beautiful one, growing together, learning from each other and praying together.

The Market Square with the cloth market and St Mary's church in the background.

The Market Square with the cloth market and St Mary's church in the background.

One of the pilgrims, Bernadette, reflects upon the week: "On Monday 17th April, parishioners from St Joseph’s church, Lancaster set out at 6am, heading for Krakow and a memorable five day visit to this historic and beautiful city. During this week of Divine Mercy, it was a great opportunity for us to visit the shrine of the Divine Mercy, celebrating Mass in the small basilica, where St Faustina had worshipped, and to hear about not only the life of this amazing nun, but also to listen a member of her order today, speak about the wonderful compassion of Our Blessed Lord. We were also very blessed to celebrate daily Mass in the small but beautiful chapel of the Kopernika Convent on our arrival in Krakow, and at St Peter and Paul Basilica on the Tuesday evening, after a very sad day spent at Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp. It was fitting that this day was very cold, wet and blustery, which helped us to focus on the extreme conditions that the people transported there had suffered. We were warmly dressed and well fed, they weren’t, and many silent prayers were said during that day. We also visited Czestochowa, and the shrine to Our Lady on another very cold and this time a very snowy day, and again celebrated Mass together.  During the week we had opportunity for some sightseeing around the city itself, the covered market being a favourite venue as well as the many fine and inexpensive restaurants from around the world. Finally on Friday we celebrated early Mass in the basilica of St Florian, where Father Wojtyla, now St Pope John Paul, had been a curate between 1949 and 1951, and where there isperpetual adoration throughout the day, with people coming and going all through this time, ad no need for a rota! This was a fitting end to a memorable week, and a week where we were able to experience the difference in being in a Roman Catholic country, where the Faith is truly evident in daily life, from the very young to the not so young.  Thanks must go to our spiritual leaders, Father Philip Conner, Canon John Gibson from Our Lady of Lourdes, Carnforth and Deacon Stephen Pendlebury, for their uplifting and thoughtful sermons, and to Paulina our tour guide for the week".

The entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The Divine Mercy Shrine

The Divine Mercy Shrine

Our visit to Czestochowa, the national shrine to Our Lady.

Our visit to Czestochowa, the national shrine to Our Lady.

The inside of St Mary's Basilica in Krakow

The inside of St Mary's Basilica in Krakow

Where would a pilgrimage be without a selfie!

Where would a pilgrimage be without a selfie!

Triduum Celebrations

Philip Conner

At the heart of our faith is the Triduum, the three days that reach from Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Last Supper, to Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. At St Joseph's everyone comes together to offer God the best that we can in prayer and worship. For months beforehand, the choir is rehearsing, the brasses are being polished, the flowers planned and arranged, the readers rehearsed and the altar servers practised. 

In the morning of Maundy Thursday, all the priests of the Diocese gather at the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass with the Bishop. Here we found Fr Sony who was dressed in the vestments of the Syro-Malabar Rite.

In the morning of Maundy Thursday, all the priests of the Diocese gather at the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass with the Bishop. Here we found Fr Sony who was dressed in the vestments of the Syro-Malabar Rite.

After Mass, the oils which have been blessed, are distributed to all the priests of the Diocese, to be used through the year for the celebration of the sacraments, Christ's presence amongst us.

After Mass, the oils which have been blessed, are distributed to all the priests of the Diocese, to be used through the year for the celebration of the sacraments, Christ's presence amongst us.

At the Mass of the Last Supper, Fr Philip followed Christ's example and washed the feet of twelve parishioners. In washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loved us.

At the Mass of the Last Supper, Fr Philip followed Christ's example and washed the feet of twelve parishioners. In washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loved us.

The Desolation of Good Friday. All the statues and even the cross is covered, all is lost and we are in mourning.

The Desolation of Good Friday. All the statues and even the cross is covered, all is lost and we are in mourning.

The blessing of the Paschal Fire begins the Easter Vigil, the mother of all Vigils.

The blessing of the Paschal Fire begins the Easter Vigil, the mother of all Vigils.

The Easter Vigil. The Light came into the darkness, and the darkness could not extinguish it. The shrouds are removed, and the light of the Paschal Candle illuminates the church. Alleluia!

The Easter Vigil. The Light came into the darkness, and the darkness could not extinguish it. The shrouds are removed, and the light of the Paschal Candle illuminates the church. Alleluia!

At the Easter Vigil, we were delighted to bring six young adults into full communion with the Church.

At the Easter Vigil, we were delighted to bring six young adults into full communion with the Church.

We were also filled with joy (and sadness) as Katherine left the parish to join the Carmelite Sisters.

We were also filled with joy (and sadness) as Katherine left the parish to join the Carmelite Sisters.

Easter joy!

Easter joy!

At Easter, the Church looks resplendent in gold!

At Easter, the Church looks resplendent in gold!

Bosco, our new MC, overseeing operations!

Bosco, our new MC, overseeing operations!

#Flame2017

Philip Conner

Students from Our Lady's with Cardinal Nichols

Students from Our Lady's with Cardinal Nichols

On the 11th March 2017, a group of pupils from Our Lady’s Catholic College Lancaster travelled to the SSE Arena in Wembley to join 8,000 other young people at the National Catholics Youth Congress, Flame2017.

The day started extremely early (4:30am in fact!) as the very generous Mr Seddon drove the group to Salford on our school minibus and from there we made our way with a large group to Wembley Arena.

We arrived in London at 10:30am and the event began with song, drama, prayer and an opening address from Mike Pilavachi who inspired everyone gathered to really know our own worth. He used a memorable anecdote about the price of a bride in certain cultures; that even the most wonderful bride ever would cost 5 cows. And how that we, as children of God, have received a much greater price paid for us, in Jesus’ sacrifice.

The theme of Flame this year was 10,000 reasons to be thankful, inspired by a song from Matt Redman who sang live throughout the day. Many of his songs were very inspiring and were about becoming closer to God.

The event had a strong emphasis on social justice, with Cafod volunteers Ryan and Leah sharing about their time visiting refugees in Lebanon and Fr Augusto Zampini Davies encouraging us how to make a difference. Rise Theatre Group presented a wonderful drama focusing on the Refugee crisis and encouraged us all throughout the day to go to the front of the arena to have a close look at the refugee boat which had sailed from Lampedusa to London. This was a powerful imagery and really brought home the reality of our brothers and sisters across the world.

We were lucky to sit in the sun over lunch and meet up with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. There was also a powerful address from Cardinal Charles Bo, From Myanmar, encouraging us “Hope has no expiry date”, and to place our hopes in God’s hands.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols closed the afternoon by leading over 8000 people in prayer and adoration and it was a powerful experience to bring an arena full of people to total silence, before the presence of God.

It's fair to say all of the staff and pupils thoroughly enjoyed their experience at Flame. One student said, "It was a great atmosphere. It made me feel closer to God and has inspired me to help others". Another said, "It was a fun experience and brought young people together. Towards the end, nearly 8000 people put their phone lights into the air as a sign of hope- that was a memorable experience".

In light of attending Flame 2017, we would like to bring back a range of things from the experience to our school, parishes and communities. This includes "Different ways of praying and more acting and singing in liturgies" and to "bring young people together more". We would also like to look into ways that we can help and support the charities that we heard about during the event.

We would like to thank our local parishes for their kind donation of travel expenses, we are most grateful and you are definitely on our list of 10,000 Reasons to be thankful to God.