At 61, I must have been the only priest in Britain that had never been to Lourdes. I’ve made up for it since: four times in the last ten years. This July, I went with a group of London-based Nigerians, all contacts of the indefatigable Delia Oku, a former Hoxton parishioner, who began organising this year’s pilgrimage from her hospital bed after a serious operation for cancer, followed by the usual distressing therapy. But she was fully back in action for the trip. Having lived in Paris for a number of years, she took no nonsense from anyone.
The good thing about Lourdes as a place of pilgrimage is that it has a very clear focus: healing and the sick, and an unforgettable story: Bernadette and the appearances of Mary. So simple, so moving and so true. And it is also very ecclesial, in that the diocesan groups from many different countries are prominent, leading the various different liturgies, carrying their banners, and with groups of young volunteers helping the sick. It is the universal Church both at prayer and in action. And there are bishops everywhere.
The liturgies, too: the Masses, the candlelit rosary procession, the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and blessing of the sick, and the services of Reconciliation, etc, are all done with reverence and joy, but without the fussiness of traditionalism or the sometimes off-putting enthusiasm of the more excitable Catholic groups. It is the Church at its best, and there’s time for relaxation as well. It is a serious place without being solemn. It is full of religion, but joyfully and without sentimentality or extremism.
We had our share of little miracles in the group, like the former Catholic and self-declared ‘born-again Christian’, who came with her three teenage children, but who ended up going to confession for the first time in years. You could see her visibly relaxing and warming again to Church, in spite of still asking predictable questions like ‘Aren’t statues idolatrous?’ and ‘Why is there a figure of Christ on the cross?’ We had a married deacon in the group who had been ordained by Cardinal Vincent a few days before the pilgrimage and hadn’t yet had time to perform any diaconate functions. In fact, he didn’t even bring an alb with him. For the final Mass at the Grotto, he went into the sacristy to borrow an alb and stole, and came out walking next to the Cardinal, having been asked to be the deacon and proclaim the Gospel. He was overwhelmed.
Finally, there was my own little miracle. On the final evening we gathered in one of the large chapels for the blessing of the diocesan candle and to say farewell to one another. Three Asian ladies sat down next to me. One of them recognised me as the priest who heard her husband’s confession in Korean three years’ ago on my previous visit to Lourdes. She had two friends with her who had spent the whole week looking for a priest to hear their confessions in Korean, which I was able to do, in spite of being a bit rusty after many years away from Korea. Was it a coincidence that they met me on the last evening? Or another little miracle thanks to Our Lady?
This year we had a bonus. On the final day, 27 July, the 19th Stage of the Tour de France began in Lourdes. It was very brave of the shrine authorities to hand over the piazza in front of the main basilica to the Tour, but it was a wonderful demonstration of the Church embracing the secular and giving it its blessing. Why not? The Church is not aloof from the real world, and never has been. And it was obvious on that glorious, and very hot, day. We left Lourdes later that day vowing to come again.
Fr Paul Graham O.S.A.
On 5 May 2018, in the newly refurbished church of St Augustine's, Hammersmith, west London, Bishop Michael Campbell OSA, Emeritus Bishop of Lancaster, ordained to the priesthood Arthur Bolivar OSA and Gladson Dabre OSA, in a two-hour ceremony that was characterised by outstanding music and a powerful sense of congregational participation. They were the first Augustinians to be ordained in Britain since 2005.
Both of them had spent part of their discernment period and training in St Joseph's, and it was heartening to see a number of Broomhouse parishioners present, in spite of the long distance they had to travel.
The following day, Fr Arthur said his first Mass in the chapel of Charing Cross Hospital, where he had worked as a nurse and where he first felt a calling to the priesthood with the Augustinians nearby. The little chapel was packed with former colleagues and friends, many of them fellow Filipinos.
The first Mass for Fr Gladson was held in St Augustine's Church at the routine 12.15pm Sunday Mass, and among the concelebrants were his three uncles who had travelled from India to be present.
After visiting their families in the Philippines and India, who had been unable to obtain visas for the ordination, they will both return to their respective communities in Birmingham and London to begin their pastoral work as priests. Fr Arthur will be working in St Mary's parish, Harborne; and Fr Gladson will continue his work as Vocations Director for the Augustinians in Britain. Beginning in September, he will be overseeing a vocation discernment community for men in Hammersmith.
Fr Paul Graham OSA
Bishop Campbell's homily can be found here
Further photos will be added in due course.
On Sunday 29th April, thousands of Catholics across the British Isles joined together in pilgrimage to pray the Rosary on the Coast for peace and life in the British Isles.
A contingent of almost 70 pilgrims, comprising the parishes of St John the Baptist, Corstorphine; St Joseph's, Broomhouse & St Kentigern's, Barnton gathered on Crammond Foreshore in Edinburgh to participate in the event.
The Rosary was led by Fr Jeremy Milne, Parish Priest of St John's and St Kentigern's, supported by our own Fr Paul.
The inspiration for the event came from a similar event recently held in Poland, which saw the faithful praying the Rosary on the coast of the country for peace and stability in the nation. Having seen the powerful effect this had, a number of faithful decided to try the same thing in Britain.
And it worked. Our event felt very special. The preaching of the Gospel, the stirring rendition of "Faith of our Fathers" and of course the rosary was incredibly moving. It was also a joy to have our three neighbouring parishes come together in pilgrimage for the first time (but hopefully not the last!)
Pope Francis: A Voice Crying Out in the World
Villanova University is an Augustinian campus near Philadelphia. It is in the top ten of Catholic universities in the United States and recently won the nationwide college basketball championship for the third time. The Office for Mission and Ministry at the university hosted a conference, 12-15 April, to commemorate the first five years of Pope Francis’s papacy and to assess its impact. This timely event, the first of its kind at an American Catholic university, is significant, as there is considerable opposition to Pope Francis among conservative Catholics in the US.
One of the aims of the conference, therefore, was to explain Pope Francis to his critics and to call for dialogue between them and his supporters. Fr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ, using a vivid African proverb, put it well when he said, ‘people who eat together do not eat one another’. As the American Church becomes more polarised over the papacy of Pope Francis, evidenced by the proliferation of negative websites and blogs, a conversation about his leadership of the Church is badly needed. Encouragement for the conference was supplied by the presence of the Papal Nuncio, Cardinals Joseph Tobin and Oscar Maradiaga, and the eminent sociologist, Margaret Archer, President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
Among the impressive line-up of speakers were John O’Malley SJ, of Georgetown University, regarded as the dean of American Jesuit historians; Jeffrey Sachs, one of the most influential economists in the world and a critic of unbridled capitalism; Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of La Civilta’ Cattolica, who is close to the Pope and a media specialist; and Massimo Faggioli of Villanova University, theologian and world-renowned specialist on Vatican II.
More than one speaker made the point that Pope Francis has been profoundly shaped by his Jesuit formation. As Fr Spadaro put it, ‘He is putting the Church through the Spiritual Exercises’. That may not please everyone, of course, but it goes a long way to explain the Christocentric nature of his papacy and the extent to which the habit of spiritual discernment in the light of Jesus in the gospels informs both the words and, perhaps more importantly, the actions and gestures of this Jesuit pope. Anyone with any familiarity with Ignatian spirituality knows that its focus is ultimately a practical one: action in the light of contemplation. Cardinal Maradiaga, who knows him well, pointed out that Pope Francis speaks more eloquently with his deeds than his words, like his namesake from Assisi.
The Pope’s critics accuse him of having some sort of programme of liberal transformation of the Church. As was pointed out, there is no such ‘programme’. Pope Francis makes his decisions in the chapel, not in his office, as Spadaro pointed out. Christ is his guide, not some predetermined progressive ideology. Fr Orobator in an engagingly titled talk, ‘A hunter who advances too far ahead of his fellow hunters ends up with an arrow in his behind’, quoted St Ignatius of Loyola who said that true Christian leadership means to be promoted to the cross and humiliation. If Francis has a programme, it is to follow Christ onto the Cross, regardless of the consequences.
From a historical perspective, Fr O’Malley situated the current papacy in continuity with Vatican II, regarded by him as a ‘single corpus’ whose coherence is found in its pastoral nature. For the first time in an ecumenical council, he pointed out, its function was not church order. Rather, Pope John XXIII wanted to encourage the faithful and send out a hopeful message to the world. And ‘pastoral’, as O’Malley emphasized, does not mean ‘second rate’, nor does it mean of no significance doctrinally. Indeed, he pointed out that not even the Council of Trent issued any new doctrinal definitions. Francis is in tune with this focus and is far from being a ‘Pope lite’, he said.
Jeffrey Sachs, dubbed by The Economist as among the world’s three most influential economists of the past decade, gave a resounding endorsement of Catholic Social Teaching and of Laudato Si’ , Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, which he dubbed a ‘most remarkable document’. Sachs said the the market economy of the world does not contain within itself any moral framework and does not promote the common good. Such a framework needs to come from outside, and he believes the Catholic Church with its worldwide reach and moral credibility is best positioned to do this. As a voice for the common good, he described Pope Francis as ‘unique in the world’.
From a sociological perspective, Margaret Archer of Warwick University and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, mentioned that while the two previous popes were very supportive of the Academy, only Pope Francis gave it a specific directive: to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery - written on the back of an envelope. As a result, the Santa Marta group was established, made up, as she said with a twinkle in her eye, of ‘policemen and bishops’ (in which Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster plays a leading role). For those who are interested, the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences (PASS for short) has launched a website: www.endslavery.va. Archer mentioned in passing that had Pope Francis not become a priest, he would have made a very good sociologist!
As well as the keynote presenters, a host of other speakers gave short papers in small groups under a variety of different themes, like The Roots of Francis’s Theology, Amoris Laetitia and Sexual Ethics, Francis and the Media, Francis and Ecclesiology, and so on.
The wind-up session on the final day endorsed the need for a conversation between the supporters of Pope Francis and his critics, especially in the US, where the critical voice is most strident. The presence of the Papal Nuncio at the conference was evidence of the Vatican’s concern about this. The hope was expressed that Villanova University having taken the initiative, other major Catholic universities and colleges will open up this badly-needed dialogue. Finally, it was noted that the participants were mainly lay people, with relatively few priests and seminarians who, as Fr O’Malley pointed out, are ‘not getting a good education these days’. The conference ended with a call from its organiser, Barbara Wall, who did an excellent job, to go out and share its insights.
Paul Graham OSA
16 April 2018
We were pleased to welcome to our Sunday masses this weekend (8th April) the Provincial of the Augustinians in Britain, Fr Robert Marsh OSA. Fr Marsh was one of the very first Augustinians to serve at St Joseph's back in 1995, and it was great to have him back with us for the day in his capacity as Provincial of the Order.
He stayed for a cup of tea and a chat with some parishioners after the 11am mass, remarking how pleased he is to see that the parish is still growing and developing. He noticed the significant changes which have taken place in the parish since he served here, including the building of the hall extension.
We are also pleased to welcome the Prior General of the Augustinians, Fr Alejandro Moral from Sunday afternoon until Monday. He flew direct to Broomhouse from Rome, marking the first leg of a routine visit of all the Augustinian parishes in the Province of England & Scotland. Fr Moral will be present at the 9.30am mass on Monday morning and will meet parishioners afterwards. He will then visit the parishes in England throughout the rest of the week.
Sixteen Augustinians, nine friars and seven sisters, are currently doing an eleven-week renewal course in Rome (22 January-7 April 2018), organised by the Institute of Augustinian Spirituality, an arm of the Curia that promotes the spirituality of the Order. The course comprises nine weeks of lectures followed by a pilgrimage to Augustinian sites at Lecceto, Montefalco and Cascia, and a retreat in San Gimignano, over two weeks. Our Parish Priest, Fr Paul Graham, was invited to give them a one-week seminar (ten hours), 12-16 February, on The Contemporary World and Society.
The participants were from nine countries, including two Chinese friars. Fr Augustine Peng is a professed Augustinian belonging to the Vicariate of the Orient, which comes under the Spanish Philippines Province, and is a parish priest, on his own, in Hunan Province. Bro. Huyao Zhang is from northern China and was for a while with four other candidates with the Vicariate of the Orient in the Philippines. When they left, he transferred to the Australian Province, where he is now a seminarian. He speaks excellent English. He said a number of young men from his home area, where there is relative religious freedom, are keen to join the Order.
With sisters and friars from countries as varied as Indonesia, India, China, Nigeria, Kenya, Poland, Hungary, the USA, including a Nigerian friar working in Algeria (Annaba), the seminar sessions provided a number of interesting perspectives on the contemporary world, not just the familiar European and North Atlantic one - a reflection of the changing nature of both the Order and the Church. In fact, the number of African sisters and seminarians in Rome is now very noticeable. Of the seven friars in the first-cycle of studies in St Monica’s, five are from Africa and two from Brazil. And the majority of student priests are from Africa and Asia.
Fr Paul writes:
"This was my third time giving the seminar, and I have varied it each time. On this occasion, I found a greater clarity in my own mind about how as Augustinians we should be relating to the contemporary world. Like Augustine, as exemplified in his own pastoral and intellectual work, we should be critically engaged with the world around us, the position put forward by Pope Francis, especially in Evangelii Gaudium, but meeting with considerable resistance in some quarters of the Church.
A best-selling book in the United States, The Benedict Option, is advocating that Catholics should live at a distance from contemporary western society which is perceived to be amoral, relativistic, and corrupt. The only viable option for devout Catholics, therefore, is to retreat to semi-monastic bunkers of like-minded conservative Christians, in the mistaken notion that this is what St Benedict did in order to save European civilisation in the so-called Dark Ages.
This is not the Augustinian option, which is perhaps best expressed by the British theologian Adrian Hastings: ‘We are faced... with an Augustinian predicament. When the Vandals are at the gates, there are three possible responses. One is simply to despair… of any ultimate meaning in the world or in human history; the second is to withdraw into a private sacral sphere, a closed community, monastic or charismatic, abandoning the struggle for the secular state as irredeemably corrupt; the third is to imitate Augustine himself, take the sombre view, but also the very long one, and retain in hope, but without much evidence, a Christian concern for the ultimate redeemability of the totality of things’ (A History of English Christianity 1920-1985, London, 1986, p.660).
Hastings perceptively observes that a great many seem to be succumbing to the first and second options, not so many to the third, which he describes as ‘the long haul of the genuine Augustinian’. "
The Augustinian Province of St John Stone of England and Scotland are hosting a vocations discernment weekend at our sister parish of St Mary's in Harborne, Birmingham from 26-28 January 2018.
The weekend is open to both men and women aged between 18 and 35. Are you considering a vocation to religious life, or do you know someone who is? Why not encourage them to come and see. Spend some time in prayer, reflection, fun and allow the Holy Spirit to get to work.
Anyone wishing to take part should contact Br Gladson beforehand. For more details, click here.
And as a parish, we continue to pray that the mission of our Province Vocations team will be fruitful. One Mind and One Heart in God.
Congratulations to Br Gladson Dabre OSA, who was ordained Deacon in St Joseph's Broomhouse on Saturday 21st October 2017.
Br Gladson's Diaconate Ordination comes not long after professing his Solemn Vows as an Augustinian, at St Monica's Church, Hoxton. It is his final step before being ordained to the priesthood. Ordination to the Diaconate means he can carry out certain rites in the church, including baptisms, weddings and funerals. Deacons are also eligible to preach, and Br Gladson delivered his first homily with confidence and style, signalling great things to come in the future.
He was ordained by Bishop Michael Campbell OSA, Bishop of Lancaster, in front of a packed church and his fellow Augustinian colleagues. In true Broomhouse style, it was followed by a parish celebration.
Br Gladson has taken up residence at St Augustine's Priory in Hammersmith, where he has been appointed as Vocations Director for the Augustinians in the UK. He will be instrumental in the running of the Augustinian Vocations Discernment Community in London, with the aim of hopefully recruiting more young men to the Order and prolonging their service in their various parishes in the UK.
As a parish, we wish Br Gladson well in his new ministry. We know his role as Vocations Director will involve much travelling back and forth, so are certain he won't be a stranger.
Br Arthur Bolivar OSA, who made his Solemn Profession at the same time as Br Gladson will be ordained a Deacon on Sat 18 November 2017 in St Mary's Church, Harborne. We also keep him in our prayers.