Monday, 18 September 2017

We Press on – together- In Hope: Support Pact this Prisoners’ Sunday

Prisoners' Sunday 8th October
“My upbringing was very dysfunctional; at the age of ten I found drink and drugs. I’m a person who has spent nineteen years of my life in prison and Pact support gave me hope, not only to stay out of prison but to help me find meaning in my life. It helped me when I had no food, no travel, and no job. The mentoring service has built my self-confidence, has given me a life worth leading and given me a future.”  David, User of Pact services

At the age of 45, David had spent almost half of his life in prison. With no support network David was anxious of falling back into old habits. He met with a Pact Worker whilst in prison who set him up with a group of volunteer mentors, motivated by their faith, who could offer him practical and emotional support for the first crucial months after release. This gave David immense hope, helped him find his feet, resettle back into the community and build a life. Thousands of men like David leave prison every day, many of whom are homeless with no support network. They are often some of the most marginalised people in society; and yet most in need of hope for a fresh start. Without support, men like David may not have the chance to get back on the right road.

On October 8th this year we mark Prisoners’ Sunday, the national day of prayer and action for prisoners and their dependants. Our theme, ‘We Press on –together- in Hope’, recognises the vital role we all play in coming together, as a Catholic community working to bring light and a fresh start to people affected by imprisonment. We ask you to put your faith into action and help us to support more people like David.

A resource pack will be sent to every Parish Priest across England and Wales with more information. Please encourage your relevant celebrant to make use of the resources to mark the day. Additional resources such as children’s activities & liturgy and discussion group topics are available on Pact’s website from early September. If you would like to get involved or host a talk on Pact’s work in your community please get in touch with Naomi on the details below.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Funeral of Cardinal Cormac - Photos and story

Bishops in porcession past the coffin of Cardinal Cormac
The funeral of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, former Archbishop of Westminster, took place at at Westminster Cathedral today. Cardinal Vincent Nichols was chief celebrant. Archbishop George Stack gave the homily.

More than 1,200 people attended, among them the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the former Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, Coptic Archbishop Angaelos, many politicians, including former Irish president Mary McAleese and Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg, together with 47 bishops and more than 250 priests.

Cardinal Cormac died on 1 September after a short illness. He was 85 years old. His body was first brought to the church of Our Lady of Grace in Chiswick, west London - the parish where he lived in his retirement - and then to Westminster Cathedral where he lay in state yesterday. The Cardinal's nephew, Patrick Murphy-O'Connor, said there were around 95 relatives present. Patrick paid tribute to his uncle's devotion to his family, saying he was "much-loved and he would do anything for his family."

Cardinal Cormac will be buried under the tenth Station of the Cross in the Cathedral - a place he chose himself.

Adam Simon from Arundel & Brighton Diocese who attended the funeral told Premier it was “a very reverential occasion”.

He said his lasting memory of the Church leader is that “He was beacon of light, a father like figure, a rock to us all. I have a photo of Cardinal Cormac he was blessing our children but he was blowing bubbles with them… that was the type of person that he was. He was a holy man but he was a human person and he was a friend to the family and to so many people.”

The Most Revd George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff, preached the homily at the Funeral Mass of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor in Westminster Cathedral today.

One of Cardinal Cormac's auxiliary bishops serving the diocese of Westminster in the early 2000s, Archbishop Stack praised the late Cardinal and the ease with which he lived his vocational calling:

"He was comfortable in his own skin. He was aware of his failings, yet supremely confident in his calling. He was a gifted man who would have made a success of whatever career he chose. Medicine or music - maybe even golf or perhaps rugby like his brother! Yet from an early age he was convinced he should be a priest, like his two other brothers."

Archbishop Stack lauded how Cardinal Cormac put his skills at the service of the Church and society at large - his heart for Christian unity most apparent:

"He was able to reach out in meaningful and constructive ways to other churches. His membership and scholarly contribution to the conclusions of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. Much to his delight the fruits of his work were captured this year in the publication of all five ARCIC documents in one volume. His conviction that unity of mind and heart amongst the followers of Christ were not optional extras but sorely needed in a fragmented world."

Cardinal Cormac was often seen as a genial, friendly man. Archbishop Stack reflects further:

"His gift of hospitality. He took the words of Jesus seriously 'Love one another as I have loved you'. These gifts, and the generous way he used them, were expressive of the fact that he liked people and liked being with them. He drew the best from others and gave them nothing but the best of himself in return. But his was not superficial friendliness. He was convinced that people could and should share their faith and learn from the life experiences of others."

The homily also focused on where the Cardinal is to be buried - beneath the tenth Station of the Cross in the Cathedral. Archbishop Stack believes this shows us something of Cardinal Cormac's humility:

"This Station has a special lesson to teach us. Jesus is stripped of his garments. Our faith and devotion teach us that the seamless robe of his revelation of divine love, the integrity and compassion of Jesus, is torn away. The Jesus who stands before us naked and unashamed calls us to pay more attention to who we are rather than what we have so cunningly conspired to be.

"Cormac knew well what it was like to have judgments questioned, decisions criticised, mistakes analysed. That 'stripping away' could easily have made him angry and cynical, causing him to retreat from the public arena. Yet he acknowledged his mistakes. He made no excuses. He said the most difficult words of all. "I’m sorry". He learned a huge lesson and proceeded to establish the most robust safeguarding mechanism possible, a model for other institutions. Humility and action were part of the robe that he wore."

Read Archbishop’s Stack’s homily in full here: Cardinal Cormac was a priest to his fingertips

You can see photos of the Funeral on the Catholic Church of England & Wales Flickr site -


Jo Siedlecka, CCN and Premier

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Icon of the Holy Family Written for Holy Family Church, Reigate

Sr. Aelred beside the icon
A beautiful icon has been presented to Reigate church in Nativity of the Lord parish to be hung in the new hall alongside the church.

“Written” by St. Aelred Erwin, a Benedictine nun from the ancient Abbey of St. Mildred at Minster in Kent, and donated in memory of Sheila and Ted Bentall by their family. 

It was anointed, in the presence of family and friends, by Bishop Richard. He explained that icons are very different from statues. The purpose of a statue is to remind us of the saint to whom we are praying. Icons are the product of much prayer and fasting too; hence they are written as result of contemplation and spiritual experience rather than being the product imagination. They lead us deeply into heavenly presence. This is why rather than being blessed they are anointed with chrism on the back in recognition of their holiness.

The icon shows the child Jesus holding the hands of Mary and Joseph in front of the Holy Family Church, Reigate, and above the entrance, the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove.

Text and photo, Ann Lardeur

Friday, 1 September 2017

Once a tourist, now a humanitarian worker: Woking parishioner reflects on his recent trip to Syria

Alan second from left with CAFOD staff member and partners
Whilst most Woking residents are heading off on their summer holidays, a parishioner from St Dunstan's, Woking, Alan Thomlinson, who works for the aid agency CAFOD, has just returned from a week in Syria.

This was Alan’s second trip to Syria; his first was as a tourist in 2010, when he visited Damascus with his wife. They enjoyed their trip so much that they intended to return to explore the rest of the country, but their plans were curtailed by the start of Syria’s brutal civil war.

Seven years later and Alan was visiting Syria in a very different capacity. As the Emergency Programme Manager for CAFOD’s Syria response, he travelled to the coastal city of Latakia to visit nearby projects supporting displaced Syrians. Latakia is a government stronghold and currently the security situation is, when compared to the rest of the country, relatively stable.

“It was quite surreal. Women and families were out on the street and it was very cosmopolitan. Restaurants and cafes were open and it felt safe walking around. I was WhatsApping my wife photographs of the hotels and cafes and she was surprised by how normal it looked.

“Syria is a very cosmopolitan society, a mix of religions and cultures, Islamic, Christian, regional and Mediterranean. Visiting Syria you see that diversity, but with the news you just see war and fighting, so you can be tripped up into thinking that’s what Syria is like – but the people are incredibly hospitable; when we visited some internally displaced people, who had nothing, they were offering us tea and snacks.”

Whilst on the surface the situation in Latakia seemed – ostensibly - ordinary, Alan described how quickly he started to see the poverty and the great need for humanitarian assistance. The project Alan visited is run by our local church partner and supported by CAFOD, assisting 2000 displaced families with rental support, health care services and essential items, including food.

“I visited four families on house visits and it was shocking to see the conditions they lived in. One family was living in the cellar of a block of flats, which was not really fit for human habitation. It was very gloomy and the family talked about the number of cockroaches and rats that bothered them at night. There were two young girls, around nine and ten, studying for exams, who were complaining of constant headaches from studying in such darkness.”

To date, the UN estimates that the conflict has killed over 310,000 people and 14.9 million are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. CAFOD has been working with local church partners in Syria since 2012, ensuring that people affected by the crisis have food, relief supplies and safe places to stay. CAFOD is also supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.

However desperate the situation is at present, Alan has hope for Syria’s future: “I definitely hope to return as a tourist, but it’s likely I will return there with my job first. Hopefully the conflict will end as soon as possible and give the Syrian people a chance to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and homes.”

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