Monday, 12 July 2010


With religious from about 30 different orders, diocesan priests, and lots of young people, the first ever national vocations event earlier this month was a joyful Catholic weekend in the heart of England.

Invocation, that was held at St Mary’s College, Oscott, brought together more than 200 young people, many of who are discerning their vocation. And there was an added excitement with anticipation for the papal visit, particularly as Pope Benedict will speak to bishops in the college chapel, the scene of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s ‘second spring’ sermon.

There was no confusion as to what the event was intended for – to help young Catholic discern what God is calling them to do. People who signed up to go pretty much knew what they were letting themselves in for. In this atmosphere, there was nothing uncomfortable about talking to youngsters about the ‘p’ (priesthood) word or the ‘v’ (vocation) word. Everyone was generous in finding quiet time to discover - as the first speaker of the weekend, Abbot Christopher Jaimson, said – an inner sanctuary.

I went from Hull with Tom Parr from Bridlington and we were joined by Father William Massie, the Diocese of Middlesbrough Vocations director, and three others from the diocese. Apart from Fr Massie who obviously got a nice en-suite room, the rest of us took tents and camped like most of the attendees. It was that kind of event where you knew quite a few people already and were able to catch up. Also, there were a lot of familiar faces that I was finally able to put names to and chat with. It was good to meet four lads that will be going to Valladolid with me in September.

The meals were served in two tepees and the large marquee that had been especially put up for the festival. Both queuing up for lovely food and sitting down at the table made it easy for us to meet new people at each meal. Many made the point of sitting down with different people each time and introducing themselves.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, gave the keynote address on the Sunday morning. He talked about the three stages of Cardinal Newman’s conversion as an example of how to consider a vocation. He said Cardinal Newman described himself as possessing a natural religion and a having personal belief in God, which was followed by a realisation of the importance of dogmatic truth. His gift of presence with a Church of infallible teachings was the final stage at which point Cardinal Newman decided to become a Catholic.
The former archbishop of Birmingham also explored “heroes of faith”, having a goal in mind, and being in company with others in pursuit of that goal as the three themes of a pilgrim’s badge. He said that an interior space, so that people can “hear the echo” of God, was a key part of discerning a vocation.

As a ‘seminarian elect’ as I seem to be getting called this summer, I enjoyed my first privilege as being a student for the priesthood in having a special meeting with the archbishop for the seminarians who were present. Afterwards, I switched roles and went to the press conference that had been called for the event, as I was doing something for The Universe. The regional BBC were there, asking questions about the papal visit. A handful of young people who attended the event put themselves up to answer questions and do interviews if required afterwards.

There was an excellent talk by Dr Andrew O’Connell, communications director for the Presentation Brothers in Ireland, about the challenge to answer God’s call in the modern digital world. I think this presentation deserves its own blog post. Sister Gabriel Davison, a Poor Clare nun, was one of a number of religious who came out of an enclosed community for the weekend. She spoke about her own journey, from an engineering degree (finding herself the only woman in a class of 80 men) to joining the Poor Clares and taking on radical poverty. She spoke about being one among equals in the community and being in a love affair with God.

A sense of how historic and significant the weekend was came as the Holy Father’s Apostolic Blessing for Invocation was read out at the final Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nichols. Part of the message read:
“Particularly during this period of preparation for the Apostolic visit of the Holy Father, when this country has a special place in his thoughts and prayers, Pope Benedict XVI encourages all those present to continue to stay close to Our Blessed Lord as they strive to discern his will for their lives, and to put their trust in the power of the Holy Spirit who will give them the courage to say ‘yes’ to the Lord’s invitation.

“His Holiness cordially imparts to all the participants in Invocation 2010 and to their families and loved ones a special Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abundant graces from Our Blessed Lord.”
As well as the main talks, we had the chance to go to four workshops throughout the weekend on various different topics. I went along to the ‘priesthood’ workshop. It was encouraging to see a good number of lads, between 6th Form and university student age, listening attentively to three priests and a seminarian talk about the work of a priest and the journey to ordination. There was opportunity to ask questions after each of the talks and things like a deeper explanation of the celibate priesthood were explored. I also went along to sessions on witness and the theology of the body.

Youth 2000 had a lot of input into the liturgies, but there was a mix of ‘praise and worship’ and more traditional hymns at the Masses. In the large marquee on the Saturday night, there was a moving reconciliation service. Dozens of priests were dotted around inside and outside and there was some reflective praise and worship music as confessions were heard. Afterwards, there was a Blessed Sacrament procession around the college grounds, ending with Benediction and a blessing for Birmingham.

The college’s chapel was full for the three Masses, two of which were celebrated by Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Bernard Longley respectively. The sight of people standing outside the doors to the chapel for Mass and for morning prayer highlighted how encouraging the numbers were.

There was no sense of teenagers being badgered by their diocesan vocation directors or by the representatives of the different orders. Instead, all were easily available for youngsters to chat to for information and about what their calling might be. Evenings in the bar provided a more informal setting for people to chat to priests and seminarians. To see a Catholic event dominated by young people who were actively open to the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life was a delight. Father Stephen Langridge, staff and students at Oscott College and volunteers who helped organise and run the event should be warmly congratulated.

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Leonardo de la Paor said...
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