Previous items—with the latest at the top of the list:
Albert Gardner speaks up for the disabled
By Gregor Kyle
Scottish Catholic Observer, July 2000
(Source: Eugene MacBride)
Please note : Fr Albert has since died.
Albert is an ex-WF student:
the Priory 1950 - 54
Broome Hall 1954 - 55
Blacklion 1955 - 56
LEARNING to speak is an event no-one remembers, unless like parish priest Fr Albert Gardner you have to do it as a adult.
For that's exactly what Fr Gardner, of St Kessog's in Blanefield, had to do after undergoing a laryngectomy back in 1989 to remove a tumour from his throat.
The operation, which includes the removal of the larynx, or voicebox, presented a real challenge to Fr Gardner who has not only come to accept his disability, but to use his experience to help others.
As a 'White Father', he had spent over 15 years as a missionary in Africa, working in refugee camps and leper colonies where he used his Degree in Agriculture to help improve the quality of living standards. During his time there he studied for the priesthood, describing himself as "the only coloured student in my year group" at the seminary. After being ordained, he returned to Scotland to begin a new life as a parish priest, until July 1989 when he became ill and the tumour was discovered and removed. 'I hadn't been well for some time," he explained, "one night my breathing became difficult. Within the hour I was in hospital unconscious. When I woke I had already undergone the operation."
As a laryngectomee, Fr Gardner has had his voice box replaced with an open valve which assists his breathing and has been adapted to act as an artificial voice box. 'I had to learn to speak again and develop a new rhythm of breathing. If the valve comes out for any longer than 40 minutes then I will not be able to speak without major surgery," said Fr Gardner, who uses a radio mike to say Mass. He looks back on the time following the operation as a real learning process. "Prior to my operation in July, I had promised to conduct the marriage of my niece in November and I was determined that I was going to do it. I went to the speech therapist for two hours a week, and practised on my own. At the end of two months I could speak five sentences."
But the turning point came when the valve broke and all of the stress and anxiety of the past few months came to the surface. "It was distressing and very frustrating," he admits. "On the outside you are always smiling and saying don't worry I'll get used to it, but inside you are crying. "Eventually I had to go for counselling because I realised I just couldn't cope. If you bottle stuff up inside yourself you are asking for trouble.
Now that he has changed his frame of mind, Fr Gardner is ideally placed to see how society treats disabled people.
My friend, a priest and clinical psychologist, once asked if people treat me like an idiot, and disabled people will tell you there is an element in society who dont want to know them.
When you are a parish priest it is more blatant and some people run away from the parish.
He added: "The people who are least affected are medical people and children. With adults you can see the embarrassment on their faces, but with children none of them bat an eyelid. Though you do get the odd wee bit of curiosity."
"But, I'm thankful because most people who have had laryngectomy do not have a voice that is as strong as mine. Without that strength wouldnt be able to work in the parish.
His experience has led him to help the sick and disabled, and as well as work for groups like Faith and Light, he also established Blessing of the Sick Masses. They proved popular when first introduced at his post in Our Lady of the Waves Dunbar and since moving to Blanefield in September, they have maintained that status. "At the first one there was 200 to 300 people and it has held those numbers since. My new parish doesnt have disabled access, so we had to move it to St Machin's Lennoxtown which has better facilities." The latest blessing of the sick Mass was held last month and again over 300 people turned up for it, with First Communicants acting as guards of honour for the Blessed Sacrament. Said Fr Gardner, "The Mass also included patients of Lennox Castle Hospital. They were all delighted and the children enjoyed it, it means something to them."
I have great belief in the healing power of the Eucharist. God for some is becoming obsolete, but there has to be an element of faith. Faith takes over where reason runs out, and in my opinion that is the problem nowadays."
Despite the work he does, Fr Gardner is full of admiration for all the people who work to care for the sick and accept people with disabilities, like Archbishop Keith O'Brien who gave him the chance to return to parish life.
"When I first went back to work after the operation it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would be appointed to a parish. It was a great act of faith and trust on Archbishop O'Brien's part." And he added: "The people of Blanefield are very kind and thoughtful and welcoming."
Return to top
Steve Collins WF
"Once you offer people the path to a morally good life, then you feel
they are given hope
An article by Eddie Barnes in the Scottish Catholic Observer, July 2000
(Source: Eugene MacBride)
A picture of an even more
youthful Fr Collins at
Rossington Hall in 194
can be seen in the
Here he holds up
the rosary with the
clasp made from
the bullet fragment.
INTERNATIONAL Development Secretary, Clare Short's most recent intervention in the AIDS debate was to attack the Catholic Church's stance on contraception.
During a conference on AIDS in South Africa, Ms Short said the Church was a 'burden' in the fight against AIDS and claimed that its teaching was being ignored by many "good priests and nuns in Africa" who distribute condoms to their flock.
Ms Short is right in one thing - there are many Catholic priests and nuns who agree contraception is a necessary weapon in the fight against the AIDS pandemic in Africa, which has already thought to have infected around 25 million people.
But to my surprise, Fr Steve Collins is not among them.
After the AIDS conference finished I decided to meet up with the 78 year old Rutherglen priest at the Shoennstatt retreat house in Clachan of Campsie, where he was taking a well-deserved break.
The White Father missionary is one of the un-sung heroes of the AIDS crisis. A veteran of over 40 years missionary work in Uganda, he devoted the last 10 years of that life to the welfare of AIDS victims. Appointed chaplain to the St Francis Hospital in Kampala, Fr Collins set about improving the lives of people and families caught within the deadly cycle of the AIDS virus. A vocational school for AIDS orphans teaching the students job skills was organised and Fr Collins started income-generating projects for AIDS clients, helped by funding from SCIAF. On top of this, he counselled young people and sick patients and supported an AIDS Information Centre in Kampala.
He has cared for babies who will only live for a handful of years - sat beside AIDS sufferers as they die, and tried to counsel young people who are the most at danger. And he has watched close friends pass away before his eyes.
One such friend was Mary Ssenyendo, who worked alongside Fr Steve for 10 years. Mary contracted HIV from her husband who subsequently died, along with three of his brothers and two of Mary's own children. Last year, aged 36, Mary passed away as well.
"When she was dying, she said to me: 'I've received the last sacrament, I've confessed all my sins, now I'm happy. She died peacefully and happily," Fr Steve reflected. He added: "In situations like that, it's about giving hope to people. By giving people the faith, it gives them hope and they don't just hide away and die. They live positively.
Although Uganda is still racked by AIDS, it is the only country in the world where the incidence of AIDS is falling. The country has a population of eight million Catholics out of a total of 20 million, and the Church's influence is far stronger than in other African countries. As a result, Fr Steve was able to take his hope-filled Christian message to people who were receptive to it. Taking a youth forum around Kampala, he offered simple sex education talks to young people in the area.
"We called it the ABC which stands for Abstinence, Be faithful and Character formation," he said. "We asked young people why they had sex, where marriage fitted in with it and we gave the Catholic teaching on morals. It worked. Now young people are taking the message around to others to offer education and to call on youngsters to think about what they are doing."
In nearby South Africa. the attitude to such Church teaching is very different. There, the Pope has been labelled a mass murderer for advocating this policy. Critics say that, by refusing to allow the use of condoms, the Church is condemning thousands of people to an early grave.
A humanitarian and a passionate carer, Fr Steve is clearly uncomfortable about the ethical dilemmas involved. But his experience in Uganda has led him to actually blame the condom culture for the spread of AIDS in that country. He said If you give a youngster the option of either abstaining from sex or of giving them a condom and saying it's OK, then they will all go and use the condom. It's an excuse to have sex and it promotes promiscuity.
The problem is that there is a lot of user-failure, especially in Africa where condoms not stored or used hygienically."
He offered one shocking example of the consequences of the AIDS virus. "At Mekare University in Kampala, where condoms were freely distributed, there were in one year, out of 1000 students, 22 posthumous degrees and 70 students who died without finishing their degree, all from AIDS."
He is even more vehement in his views on the subject of funding for AIDS prevention. "Counselling and education centres which promote the use of the condom all get grants from organisations like UNICEF," he said. "But if you dont, you won't get anything. Catholic institutions should be supported because the call for a change in behaviour and morals is working."
Fr Steve accepts that what works for Uganda might not work in other less Catholic countries. But in the country he knows best, he is convinced that the Church's role has helped reduce AIDS, through a combination of moral teaching, education and social care.
Uganda remains his spiritual home, and he has just returned from a tour of the country where he gave thousands of pounds in donations to projects such as the AIDS babies homes in Mbara and Ibanda which will help provide basic food for the children, who will die at the average age of six years-old.
Fifteen years ago, Fr Steve nearly paid the ultimate price for his devotion to the country. His mission was attacked by rebel soldiers and Fr Steve only escaped with his life by hiding under his study chair. Today, he carries a permanent reminder of that occasion with him, in the form of a bullet fragment which he found in his room following the attack and which he now has modified into a clasp on his rosary.
He has now left Uganda for good and has taken up residence in the White Fathers' house in London, where he will carry out fundraising for the order. Africa will always stay close to his heart however. "Sometimes I think that people here see the problem of AIDS in Africa and think that its just another problem, like famine and starvation. "But it can be solved," he said.
For Fr Steve, the answer is not more contraception, but a change of heart.
He said: "The Pope visited my AIDS clients in Uganda and told them that their behavioural change was a blessing for Uganda and that their example was bringing about a change of morals in the country. "Once you offer people the path to a morally good life, a peaceful and happy life, then you fee! they are given hope. Then things can change.
Return to top
honoured with MBE by Queen (Brother Trevor
Taken from The Catholic Pictorial, 6th August 2000
Source: Chris Benton, who was a fellow-student of Brother Trevor's at St Columba's and The Priory, circa 1955 -59
(source : WF/WS magazine Feb - March 2001)
Buckingham Palace 2000, on the day that Br Trevor Robinson received an MBE from the Queen for his services to the disabled and disadvantaged in Ghana. Go to the APPEALS section to read more about his work and this award.
(L-R) : Fr Diarmud Sheehan WF, Br Trevor Robinson and Roger, his brother.
A missionary has been awarded for his services to the disabled and disadvantaged in Ghana with the presentation of an M.B.E. by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Brother Trevor Robinson, a missionary in the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (the White Fathers), has been working in Ghana for the past 32 years. For a number of years he has acted as the honorary Consul of the British High Commission in the Northern Region of the country.
Bro Trevor said of his award: It is a tribute to all of us, women and men, colleagues and others, who are working for the disadvantaged in Ghana. We just wanted to give these people a sense of dignity and mobility. It is not necessary for them to spend the rest of their lives crawling along the ground; we want to help them hold their heads up high.
He began his service as a mechanic in Wa diocese where he trained many young men to become mechanics. Since 1992 he has been working in Tamale diocese where he has addressed himself more to the needs of the disadvantaged. He has used his expertise to train a team of young men to make wheelchair tricycles. During that time they have constructed more than two hundred of these tricycles.
Bro Trevor was born in Preston and brought up in Horsforth, Leeds, from where he joined the Missionaries of Africa. His missionary work as honorary Consul, mechanic and tricycle maker has brought him into contact with all strata of society.
Father Peter Smith, Provincial Superior, said: It is because of these activities and contacts that Brother Trevor has received this award. May God bless his work and may it flourish.
Letter from Maurice Billingsley (Christmas 2000)
It seems a long while since 1st July, when we went to Guildford for John Strain's ordination. I am glad to have represented the Priory Years in John's life. Was the service a sign of what we are to hope for ourselves in years to come? Lots of women; and of the men ordained, most seemed to be looking to a part-time priestly ministry, many being of mature years. Then the two local bishops were assisted by a Lutheran from Sweden. Of course it often feels like one step forward and two back where co-operation is concerned, but rejoice in the one step forward, anyway.
John spoke later of the way his ordination made sense of, and in the light of, all his past life; family, the Priory, teaching, the Navy and the university; as well as rounding out his present life, despite a few questions left in the air - he could imagine his late father asking, 'just which church was it you said you were being ordained in?' But his family were there in force, apart from his son, somewhere on the high seas OHMS.
I regret not making it to BW; it really is an awkward trip to contemplate from here, but my thoughts were with everyone. Did John Fowles show up? If so, I'm sorry to have missed him.
David Cullen WF (Christmas 2000)
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
PO Box 50164
Many thanks for your welcome letter, the Pelican Newsletters and for the £100 which the Pelicans sent to me via Stormont Road. All very welcome and appreciated, as was the list of Pelicans.
You and other Pelicans certainly have not let the grass grow under your feet. I was interested in reading of Peter Finn's work as that of his wife, both from your letter and from the newsletter. The last time I saw Peter was the day he left the novitiate we were both part of in 1954. He sounds, like yourself, as anything but on the retired list. Give him my best wishes.
You have a remarkably good memory for events of 40 years ago. I remember quite a lot of them too, as also quite a lot of the names on the Pelican list. Many good memories of people and places come back with them.
It would have been great to have attended the Pentecost event this year, but my leave year is 2001. If there is something going on then, probably in the area of July-September, let me know.
Talking of retirement, I don't feel that way inclined myself any more than you. We have a very dynamic parish here and though the youngest of our 3 man committee is 67, somehow the Spirit and the enthusiastic response of the people keep us going too. Actually that's not quite true, about the ages. We have, in fact, a Brother candidate as part of the community, Peter, from Uganda, doing his two year pastoral experience with us, and being of the tender age of 28, brings the average down quite a bit. He does great work in our shanty town compound, Misisi, teaching youngsters carpentry, as well as being involved in many other activities, with the youth especially.
The jubilee year is being celebrated here with all kinds of events, the latest, last Sunday, being a celebration for the handicapped. As far as possible they animated the Mass, including a very well read first reading by a blind man using Braille, and after Mass there was a little get together in the parish hall.
In a couple of weeks we shall be celebrating Bible Sunday, being prepared by two Saturday workshops, one in our local language, Nyanja, and one in English, on how to read and pray with the bible. Each Small Christian Community has been asked to send two representatives, and hopefully they will be able to share what they received to enhance the bible sharing in the SCC meetings. Also planned is a Prisoners Sunday, when someone, who was jailed as a suspect in the coup of 1997 and later released, will preach at all the Masses, telling us what it is like to be an inmate and how we might help those incarcerated as also ex-prisoners. A number of us in theparish, particularly SVP members, are also part of the Prison Fellowship of Zambia, trying to do something to help spiritually and materially those in prison as also those recently released, even if the shortage of funds makes the material support difficult. We hope too that a small group of trusted prisoners may be allowed to be present for the 3 Masses of that Sunday.
These are just some of the events, but there have been many more, both at national and diocesan level as well as parish level.
We have also been trying in the parish to help parishioners with their prayer life, having put on a number of individually guided retreats of six days. It is quite demanding as regards finding sufficient prayer guides, but the efforts have been worthwhile. Those taking part in the retreats have spoken of the enormous enrichment to their prayer using Scripture and praying in a contemplative way has been. For some of those who had already followed several of these retreats we put on, from January to July, a 30 day Ignatian retreat in daily life, which meant a weekly attendance by the retreatants for one and a half hours on Saturday mornings for sharing and getting some input, as also, of course, daily prayer with Scripture for at least half an hour. Again the participants spoke of the great blessing they found this. We hope, from such experiences, to find some who can themselves become prayer guides. A training program at diocesan level is in fact getting under way through the efforts of one of the Sisters who has been much involved in the parish retreat programme.
As usual, we have many of the needy knocking on our door, the hungry, the homeless, the refugees, and, more particularly this last week or two when children go back to school, and quite a number are sent back home because of non-payment of fees, the children or their parents. What they have to pay is not much by our standards, but a lot for them, especially as so many families have not only their own children to provide for, but also nephews, nieces, grandchildren whose parents have died, usually of AIDS. That's why your help is always so much appreciated. I like to be able to keep at school at least those who are on the final term before crucial or final exams, as also help them pay for exam entrance. I had to step in a few days ago to help a young woman who has been at a college for training teachers of handicapped children. Despite doing all kinds of odd jobs herself to raise the money for her final term and exams, she had a fairly substantial shortfall. Your cheque covered that and a good deal more. Also, if it's possible to help people help themselves with a bit to start their small business, that I find a good way to help. Sometimes, as last week all it meant for a mother who has just given birth, the father having died during her pregnancy, was about £15 to buy flour, sugar, yeast and some cooking oil to set her up in the doughnut industry.
Another "Pelican" has recently returned here, Bill Russell, now in residence in the same parish recently vacated by Packy Harrity, Regiment. He won't be directly involved in parish work, but will use the parish as his base for ecumenical outreach, at the same time giving a helping hand with Masses there.
Just after his arrival I had to make a trip to the North of the country to preach a retreat to some nuns of a Congregation called the Sisters of the Child Jesus, founded actually by a WF bishop I think in the 1920s. I was asked to preach the retreat to all those who were chosen as delegates for their forthcoming Chapter. I think the reason they asked me was that I've known one of their Sisters since the days I was in Dorking in the sixties when she was in England following a course.There were a few problems. I had a thirteen hour bus journey to get there, with a few misgivings when we were about to start. The bus was not exactly born yesterday. Even before we started off a puncture was discovered and the spare wheel put on. I wondered what would happen if we had another puncture on the way, right out in the bush somewhere. Anyhow we didn't, but there seemed to be problems with the water cooling system. Every so often we stopped and all the water was poured out, mostly into the driver's cabin, and cold water substituted. Also there seemed to be a problem with oil. Two or three times a five litre tin was produced and some oil poured into the engine. Whilst that was going on, several times I saw a mechanic under the bus with his tools, doing what, adjusting the brakes maybe? Such is, at times, what travelling means here. But, as the whole journey cost about £8, that part at least I could not complain about. Also a couple of small children, calling me 'uncle', palled up with me and we played a lot of games for quite a chunk of the journey whilst their mother enjoyed a surely well-deserved snooze. Room was somehow made for almost everyone along the line that wanted to get in, which meant a continual adjustment of the already meagre space for each passenger. When I got out there was still another 4 hours more ride before the terminus was reached for the remaining passengers. Not all journeys here by bus are quite like that. On good roads, unlike the final part of this one to Kasama, companies put their good buses, and the service can be excellent, comfortable seats and video en route. That's the kind of bus you get if you want to visit Ben Henze in the Copperbelt. I think the roads get the buses they deserve.
We have now a hospice in the parish which caters for our parish and the next one, Chawama. A lot of volunteers from the two parishes help out the small permanent staff of nurses and others. It has a very good atmosphere, and quite often the sick pick up and can go back home for a bit, though inevitably they come back again if they haven't died at home. We have a lot who ask to be prepared for baptism, or Catholics who have been a bit slack and want to come back to the sacraments. I go quite often there. I also get many requests for prayer books and bibles. The atmosphere though is not a sad one and some seem so happy at being given not only the good care offered, but also the spiritual support we try to bring.
I've given you enough to wade through this time. Thanks once again to you especially for pushing things and to all Pelicans for their support. With every best wish to you, your family and all Pelicans and their families.
Very sincerely, David
Dr John Strain (Christmas 2000)
Rev Dr John Strain, BA, BTh, MSc, PhD, AFBPsS
Pinewoods , Church Lane, Grayshott, Hindhead, Surrey, GU26 6LY
Tel 01482 607115 (home) 01483 259758 (university) firstname.lastname@example.org
3 November 2000
I was so delighted, and honoured, by the notice you placed in The Pelican No 33. Thank you very much for your kind wishes and prayers. l was delighted too that Maurice Billingsley was with me at my ordination in July in Guildford Cathedral. Maurice took me to meet some staff and students at Totteridge in summer l 999. I made some delightful friends there at a time in my training when it was really valuable to connect up once again with my early calling to the priesthood. l met up with Fr Adrian Smith who recruited me to the White Fathers in 1960, a most delightful man.
I enclose a little piece I was asked to write for our Diocesan newspaper on my journey to the Diaconate. In truth, l was ordained Deacon this year and will be ordained priest, God willing, in late June/early July next year. l will celebrate my first mass on the Sunday following at St Alban's Hindhead, Surrey. l would be delighted if any of the Pelicans could be with me on that day.
I will keep you posted on progress. But thank you very much to you and all the Pelicans for their good wishes and prayers and for keeping me supplied with the Newsletter.
I was brought up in a devout Roman Catholic family in Lancashire where I was an altar boy, somewhat obsessed with bikes, cars and anything mechanical in the world. A Catholic missionary priest of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, the White Fathers, visited my Primary School when I was ten. He showed us a film of the White Fathers, dressed in the white robes and red fez of the North African Arabs, travelling around the African bush in a Land Rover, saying mass and baptizing babies.
Wow ! I think it was driving the Land Rover that really captured me. But what better thing could you do with a Land Rover than help share the life of Christ with it ? So I went off to Scotland at 11 to a Junior Seminary until I was 17. By then the appeal of the Land Rover had given way to more esoteric interests in science and philosophy. And anyway, I missed my Mum and Dad too much!
After schooling was over, I studied History and Philosophy at Keele University where I read a lot of books, lost my faith, learnt atheism; but found my wife Margaret. After teaching for a while in a School, I joined the Instructor Branch of the Royal Navy and taught every imaginable subject to sailors and helped bring up our children Justin and Helen.
What true atheist names his son after a second century philosopher who journeyed through every imaginable faith until he found his home as a Christian disciple, and finally gave his life for his faith ? Well, when the children were still young, I couldn't quite cope with the fact that unless I did something about it, my children might never experience that feeling of being loved by God.
But how could I say that if I was an atheist ? I drew the obvious conclusion and with the help and support of Anglicans in the Navy, I joined the Church of England in 1981. Whilst I was a Churchwarden in St Mary's, Portsmouth, I read a book of Cardinal Basil Hume's addresses to the monks at Ampleforth, and realised that the invitation Our Lord gave when I was ten was still there. So I sort of knew what I might do after I left the Navy in 1992. But by then, the Navy had trained me as an Occupational Psychologist and there was still work that I needed to do after I left. When I found myself working at the University of Portsmouth in 1996, I shared my story with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and everything seemed to be falling into place.
I'm still working in a University. It's now the University of Surrey at Guildford, where I shall carry on working in the School of Educational Studies as a non-stipendiary priest and serving my title in the Parish of St Alban's at Hindhead. I'm looking forward to it all. But I think the big question that Our Lord might put to me at my ordination is a simple one - So what kept you ? "
I'll just have to answer as best I can.
Stephen Collins (Christmas 2000)
MISSIONARIES OF AFRICA Tel:020-8997-8751 Fax: 020-8991 929 WFLONDON@AOL.COM
l5 Corfton Rd.
Ealing London W5 2HP
5 December 2000
Dear Eugene A HAPPY CHRISTMAS 2000
I finished my Thanksgiving pilgrimages, going through the Jubilee Door and offering the sacrifice of the Mass with Pope John Paul ll in St. Peters. I got the Maximum of Jubilee indulgences for you and my AIDS Clients and AWOFS supporters.
When I could not get my Work Permit for South Africa I went back to Uganda and saw that my projects were going well under the new management - better than when I was Director. The Provincial said it was missionary Policy at my age to hand over the Projects to Ugandans. So I have handed over the Assets and funds to AWOFS Nsambya Hospital. AWOFS Vocational School and White Fathers Uganda Province for AIDS.
On my tour of my former Missions in Uganda, I closed my Royal Bank of Scotland Account and my Friburg Account. I gave £3000 to AWOFS Vocational School, £4000 to Aids in Mbarara and £3000 for Ibanda Babies Home. The balances were transferred to the White Fathers Accounts for AIDS. I have a sense of achievement in successfully handing everything over to Uganda and being freed of the financial responsibility for AWOFS.
The White Fathers Month's Session in Rome was to help us to plan our live in retirement - I am 79 this year. I am enjoying my life in the White Fathers community at Corfton Road and am working for the AEFJ Network (Africa Europe for Justice Network). On Saturday I joined the Protest March with my nephew from Westminster to Trafalgar Square shouting "Drop the Debt".
Thanks for all the help and prayers for my AIDS Clients in Uganda. I am sure God will reward you with many graces and blessings. It is a good end to the 2000 years. Uganda is leading the world in the fight against AIDS in the Third Millennium.
With Blessings and prayers.
S.E. Mons. Michael L Fitzgerald (Christmas 2000)
S.E. Mons. Michael L. Fitzgerald
Vescovo titolare di NepteChristmas, 2000
A Happy Jubilee Christmas! Ah, you might say, we've already had a Christmas this Jubilee. That is true, because the Jubilee Year opened on Christmas Eve. But it is an exceptionally long year, lasting until 6 January 2001, and thus it includes a second Christmas. So once again, very best wishes.
In reviewing this year, let me start with some of the Jubilee events, only some, because it would be too long to mention them all. There was first the opening of the Holy Door in St Peter's on Christmas Eve. My sister Christine was with me, but was inside the basilica and didn't see anything (she was able to see the ceremony later on a video-tape). Through episcopal privilege I had a front row position. The ceremony for the opening of the Holy Door was specially revised to bring in people from every continent, thus marking the universality of the Jubilee. Perhaps even more significant was the opening of the Holy Door at St Paul's-outside-the-Walls, an ecumenical ceremony where the representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury helped Pope John Paul II to push open the door. Christians have to be united and work together.
Mention should be made of the Pope's own pilgrimages. He wanted to go to Iraq, to Ur of the Chaldeans from where Abraham started out for the promised land. Unable to fulfil this dream, he arranged for a special ceremony in the Vatican commemorating Abraham He then went to Egypt, in the footsteps of Moses. He received a very warm welcome everywhere, including at Al-Azhar, the prestigious Islamic institute. Cardinal Arinze, the President of our Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was with him on this journey, and was able to help with the contacts with the Muslims leaders whom we know already. John Paul II followed this later with his longed-for pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A few days packed with moving celebrations, silent prayer, emotional meetings and significant gestures.
In Rome, some of the most significant events, at least from the point of view of interreligious dialogue, were the Day of Pardon at the beginning of Lent, the celebration of the Martyrs of the 20th Century at the Coliseum (the families and friends of the priests and religious who have given their lives in Algeria in recent years came to Rome for the occasion), the celebration of Pentecost (which our Council helped to prepare), and the World Youth Day where some young people from other religions were among the nearly 2 million who gathered for the final celebration.
Let me add a word about two more celebrations. In October there was the Jubilee of Bishops, because even bishops are called to conversion. It was good to see bishops hearing each other's confessions after the penitential celebration in the basilica of St John Lateran. On 5 November I was in St Peter's Square for the Jubilee of Politicians and Local Authority leaders. St Thomas More was proclaimed their patron saint. A delegation of bishops from England came out for the occasion and I sat with them. At the end of the Mass we went up to greet the Pope. Archbishop Murphy O'Connor introduced each one. When he said "This is Bishop Fitzgerald", the Pope answered "He's ours !". So it doesn't look as if I'll be moving from the Vatican.
Those of you who have visited our Office will know how close it is to St Peter's. We had many apprehensions about crowds invading the area. The crowds have come, and have been impressive for their spirit of prayer, but fortunately this has not proved to be disruptive.
Yet it has been good to get away from Rome, and there have been plenty of occasions for that. The year 2000 started for me in Tunisia, in the oasis of Nefta (which is the modern name of my titual see Nepte). The Adorers of the Blood of Christ have a prayer house there and graciously accepted me to come and start the year with a retreat. In March I went to Magdala, in France, for a meeting of Jews, Christians and Muslims, and made a short hop to London for the installation of (Cormac Murphy O'Connor as Archbishop of Westminster. April saw me in Cairo for an ecumenical meeting, and in Morocco for a session of the Itinerant University of the Book (again Jews, Christians and Muslims). May included a meeting in Tokyo (Global Network of Religions for Children) and another in Antelias, Lebanon (the Joint Working Group of the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church). I took the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Syria. In July we had a meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Liaison Committee in Cairo, and paid our respects to the sheikh Al-Azhar. In the same month I went over to the USA, for a meeting in Washington and then an institute on interreligious affairs for Diocesan Ecumenical Officers.
It may look as if there has only been work, but there have also been travels for other purposes. After the USA in July I stopped in France for the wedding of Patrick Grasland and Stephanie (I often stay with the Grasland family in France). In September there was the International Gathering of the Teams of Our L ady in Santiago da Compostella to which I was invited. The Teams of Our Lady is a movement of married couples, and for some years now I have been the spiritual Assistant of a tea]n here in Rome. Immediately after this there was a parish mission in Baptistown, New Jersey, at the invitation of a priest friend. This allowed me to spend a couple of days with the Sisters of St Basil the Great, in Uniontown (PA), and experiment both their oriental liturgy and the warmth of their hospitality. All this is a welcome change from office work and meetings.
The Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) has seen some important changes. Pierre Georgin, the bursar, died in France in January. He has been replaced by Felix Weber, Swiss by origin, a former student of PISAI, with experience in Malawi, Ghana, and more recently in Jerusalem. Etienne Renaud finished his second mandate as Director and has been appointed to a new community on the island of Pemba, Tanzania. Justo Lacunza has taken over the reins. We have also lost Michel Lagarde, who has gone to a parish in France, but will return to give his lectures.
Please remember us all in your prayers.
Best wishes for the New Year. At the suggestion of Iran, 2001 has been named by the UN the Year of Dialogue of Civilisations. We are not quite sure what this means, but it certainly would seem to be necessary looking at the state of the world.
Let us pray that Peace may truly come to all.
Strain's First Mass
An account by Maurice Billingsley
When did we last witness 19 priests being ordained in the Roman Catholic church in England?
Robbie Dempsey represented the Priory at John Strain's Anglican priesting at Guildford Cathedral on 30th June, and was joined by Janet and Maurice Billingsley - and a choir from St Edward's - for John's first Mass at St Alban's, Hindhead, next day.
Here was the Church universal - a contrast between English and African solemnities which soon ceased to be a contrast at all. The sight and sound of blue-cassocked matronal choristers of mature years dancing behind Wilbert and the Gospels was one of those unexpected gifts that only the MAfrs could bring to the people of God. These gestures of reconciliation between John's past and present, between RC & CofE, between Africa & Europe were the work of the Spirit - whatever else the Pelicans may be, it is a channel of his peace for this would not have happened without an apparently tenuous chain of contacts, meetings, visits, centred in the first place on the consecration of the new church at BW.
Such blessings tell this writer that, even if all the scholastics come from Africa in the near future, there will an important witness for St Edward's to bear in England. We need the African church to teach us!
It was a good day, and new friendships were made, two churches brought closer, wounds on the way to healing. One of the great Archbishops of Canterbury was an African . . .
By my reckoning, John was either the 200th or 201st priest to be ordained from the Priory, depending on whether we count Fr Daniel Williams of Fishguard and the Beda, and briefly teacher at the Priory around 1960 and mature aspirant to the diocesan priesthood.
Return to top
Finn's "History of The Priory"
All cheques should be made payable to Hedera Books
Return to top
From Friends in the US
In mid-November 2001, I received this photo and email from the States:
(source: Jim Butters)
Dear Mr. West:
This is an exploratory message. By way of introduction, the (above) photo is a picture of the chapel at the site of Camp Lavigerie, a former White Fathers' seminary and family vacation facility located in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York State.
It was taken September 2nd last, when a group of families from Canada and the United States celebrated mass at the fifth reunion of families of Camp Lavigerie. About 100 of the faithful were involved.
The story of this reunion, and the site named after Cardinal Lavigerie, is lengthy and difficult to encapsulate. The story runs for about 50 years, the history for about 100 years and is a part of White Fathers' presence in North America.
I / we had not been aware of The Pelicans and are interested in 'making contact', if that is appropriate, at this time. Brother Jim Heintz of the White Fathers is currently serving in Malawi and is copied in this instance because of my respect for his guidance and devotion.
Yours respectfully, Jim Butters
Let me know if you would like to make contact or find out more about Jim's reunions. (Email me)
Return to Top
|Fitzgerald move signals
The Tablet, February 2006, courtesy of Maurice Billingsley
THE Pope has named Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald , the Vaticans chief official in charge of interfaith dialogue, as apostolic nuncio to Egypt and the Cairo-based Arab League.
The appointment was announced in a two-line statement released by the Vatican on Wednesday. Archbishop Fitzgerald, 68, was made head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) by the late John Paul II in 2002. The statement gave no details as to who would succeed him at the PCID. Vatican analysts have suggested this may be because the PCID is due to be combined with another dicastery*. There are suspicions it could be integrated into the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity as part of an ecumenical and interreligious affairs office.
The mild-mannered English archbishop is a notable expert on Islam and has a fluent command of Arabic, so will be well placed in Cairo to keep abreast of events in the turbulent Middle East.
Some Italian commentators, however, are reading his departure from Rome as a demotion. But Dr Justo Lacunza Balda, director of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, told The Tablet: Egypt plays a major role in the Islamic world. Archbishop Michael has all the necessary requisities to be not only the representative of the Holy See but also representative of Catholic attitudes towards Muslims.
However, the appointment could herald a long-awaited major re-organisation of the Curia. Archbishop Fitzgeralds nomination as the Vaticans top diplomat in Egypt is one of Pope Benedicts first major changes to the make-up of the Vatican government bequeathed to him by John Paul II. Benedict XVIs only previous change was to appoint American Archbishop William Levada, 69, to succeed him as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Born in Walsall, England, Archbishop Fitzgerald was 20 when he was sent to Tunisia to train in the Congregation of the Missionaries of Africa, or White Fathers. He has a doctorate in theology from Romes Gregorian University, a degree in Arabic, and is a former director of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, before being appointed secretary of the PCID in 1987. He became president in 2002.
Highly placed diplomatic sources in the Vatican were said to be shocked at the extent of the expected changes to the Curia. Some curial conservatives who pushed for Cardinal Joseph Ratzingers election as Pope are said to believe that the influence of certain Vatican dicasteries should be curtailed.
There is speculation that the Pope would like to merge all lay-related offices, such as the Councils for the Family and for the Laity, into one. Similarly, the social teaching offices such as Cor Unum would be integrated as would the communications departments Vatican Radio, Television, the Press Office, LOsservatore Romano, and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Robert Mickens, Rome
* Dicastery : One of the official Vatican congregations through which the Pope conducts the regular administration of the Catholic Church. Such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.