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Saturday, 3 September 2016

A Paisley Pastoral Placement

As I come to the end of my third week on pastoral placement (and as I remember that I haven't blogged for a while), I reckon that now would be a good time to reflect on 'parish life' and all that comes with it.

Because I attended a language course in Italy last summer, I didn't have a placement in a parish. That means that my last placement was actually two years ago, in St Mirin's Cathedral. That first placement was fantastic, and served as a great introduction to life in and around a parish house. This second placement - also in Paisley - has served as a confirmation for me that I am where God wants me to be: in the Diocese of Paisley.

I moved into St Charles' parish three weeks ago. There is a great community of friendly, welcoming people, who made me feel at home very quickly. My first day in the parish coincided with the first day of term at the local primary and secondary schools, and this gave me and the parish priest, Fr Stephen Baillie, an opportunity to meet the new P1s at St Charles' Primary School. The kids were full of energy and fun, and it was immediately clear that the school and the parish had a great working relationship. From the first day, then, I felt comfortable with the idea of visiting the school and chatting with the kids.

The next few days were filled with visits to St Andrew's Academy and St Charles' Primary. Together with the RE department at the Academy, I arranged a timetable that would allow me to meet almost all of the 1300+ pupils over a three week basis. The timetable for visits to the primary school was vaguer, which helped a great deal.

Also during my first week, Fr Stephen and I had a funeral in the parish. To date, it is the only funeral I have served at during this placement. Although they are never happy occasions, I am glad that I had the experience, as it is generally a very common one in parish life. So far, I have not been at any weddings, although I believe there are two in the diary for next week.

Most of my time over these past three weeks has been tied up with the school day. I try to visit a primary school every day, and the Academy's RE timetable (as well as a week-long programme of S1 retreats at another parish in Paisley) has kept me busy.

Last week, in order to experience life in a nearby but very different parish, I moved into St Paul's. While the number of people living within the parish boundaries has fallen in recent years, there is still a welcoming community that comes to Mass every Sunday. On top of that, the parish priest, Fr Frank Hannigan, is the chaplain of the Royal Alexandra Hospital and St Paul's Primary. This has allowed me to serve at the weekly hospital Mass and to meet another bunch of P1, P2 and P6 kids. Yesterday, Fr Frank celebrated a Mass for the opening of the school year for the St Paul's Primary community in the church (which is both beautiful and huge).

This coming Monday, I will move back into St Charles' parish for my last week on placement. As well as the weddings that are coming up, on the 11th of September there is a Holy Hour that I have been asked to organise. My final week will be spent preparing for the Holy Hour, saying farewells to the St Charles' Primary kids and St Andrew's Academy kids, and reflecting on another fantastic and fruitful pastoral placement.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Institutions, Ordinations and Admissions

As the Scots College library gets busy and seminarians actually wake up feeling stressed, it is a safe bet that exams are once again around the corner. I thought I'd take this opportunity, before I bury myself under notes and essays, to reflect on April and May 2016.

Life has been busy at the College over the past couple of months. I seem to say that in most of my posts, but there is no other way of describing it. Some of the 'highlights' of late include a private Audience with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace (see previous post), ordinations to the Diaconate, the institution of new Lectors, and the admission of new Candidates for Holy Orders.

While I wont reflect again on the College community's time with the the Holy Father on the 14th April, I will reflect on the later events of that evening. At a Mass with Archbishop Tartaglia and Archbishop Cushley, three seminarians were instituted as Lectors. I was one of them. Of course, many people will not have any idea what this means - I certainly didn't before I came to seminary. Every seminarian must be instituted to the ministry of 'Reader' at some time before his ordination. Essentially, Lectors are instituted as ministers of the Word of God. They are asked to take seriously their prayer and mediation with the Scriptures, and to be able to help with Catechesis (instructing others in the Faith). While many people now read at Mass back home, this is the Lector's primary role.


Next, two weeks later, the entire community was very busy preparing for the ordinations to the Diaconate. This is without doubt the 'biggest' event in the College calendar every year. This year, three men in their sixth year were ordained as deacons - Paul Denney, Bernard Mournian and Jonathan Whitworth. The College chapel was as packed as it has ever been on Sunday 1st May, with around 200 people in attendance for the Mass and later reception. This included around 40 priests from Scotland, Rome and elsewhere. Bishop Toal from the Diocese of Motherwell was the main celebrant.

The ordinations serve as a real encouragement for everyone in the community, not least of all the seminarians who hope one day to be ordained themselves. Now that they are deacons, Paul, Bernard and Jonathan turn their attention towards their priestly ordinations.

Finally, on Thursday 12th May, the Vatican's Bishop Brian Farrell visited the College and celebrated Mass, during which he formally admitted three seminarians as Candidates for Holy Orders. Emmanuel Alagbaoso, Emmet O'Dowd and Rafal Szweda are in their fifth year of formation, and at the Mass they publicly declared their intention to be ordained to the priesthood.



So, in a four week period, we had all of this - and much more - in the College calendar. However, the formal timetable becomes less hectic now, as we enter into another summer exam session. One thing that is certainly different from last year is the weather - 30°C days and 25° nights haven't yet arrived in Rome.

Please remember the seminarians and deacons in your prayers over the next few weeks. We need your prayers!

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Pope and the Palace

At the end of the Easter Vigil Mass, the rector of the Pontifical Scots College thanked the community for a worthy celebration of the Paschal Triduum. He also made a surprise announcement: we were going to meet the Pope.

To mark the 400th anniversary of the Mission Oath, which signified the Scots College becoming a place for the formation of priests for Scotland, and in response to an invitation to the College, Pope Francis invited the community to the Apostolic Palace for a private audience. Of course, the seminarians, deacons, sisters and priests discussed the audience at a small reception after the Easter Vigil, and continued discussing it during the Easter holiday.

Everyone returned to Rome one week later, and suddenly it became obvious that the time between our return and the audience was minimal. Although time seems to fly by at the best of times, the community had an episcopal visitation to host one week into the new term. These visitations happen once a year, and involve two bishops coming to Rome and having individual meetings with all members of the community so that they can put a report together for the rest of the Bishops' Conference.

On Wednesday 13th April, with all the arrangements confirmed, we were able to publicise the audience, which was to happen the next day. The seminarians, deacons and sisters would travel to the Vatican with the spiritual director to meet the rector, vice-rector and two archbishops at the entrance to Vatican City.

On Thursday 14th April, the community met outside the College for photographs. One such photo was of the seminarians who are soon to be ordained as deacons (Sunday 1st May). They had been chosen to present the Holy Father with gifts from Scotland including a quaich and a bottle of Scotch. The vice-rector would present him with a copy of the first Mission Oath taken at the College.



In Vatican City, we entered through the famous Bronze Door. As we did so, we were saluted by various Swiss Guards. Without meaning to seem too dramatic, the excitement was palpable. We remained in the foyer beyond the Bronze Door for some time, taking photographs and wondering when we would be invited to proceed.

Eventually, a member of the Papal Household signalled for us to climb a marble staircase, which led out into a large courtyard, flanked by the famous Apostolic Palace and the office from which Popes pray the Angelus on Sunday afternoons. We walked across the courtyard and a second member of the Papal Household told us that we should take the elevators to the fifth floor. We entered two mahogany elevators, which were operated by more members of the Household, and got out on the fifth floor. 

We were saluted by more Swiss Guards and shown into the first waiting chamber, which bears the name of our founder Pope, Clement VIII. We waited for the rest of the community to get out of the elevators, and then we were called into a second beautiful room. Although I am not sure about the name of this room, I remember that there was an impressive throne in the centre.

Finally, we were beckoned into a final room, the Hall of the Consistory, where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation. We were shown to our seats and given an English translation of the Holy Father's address to the community of the Pontifical Scots College. 

After a time of anticipation, Pope Francis walked in. He almost surprised us. We stood up and applauded him. He looked happy to see us. He sat down. We sat down. Archbishop Tartaglia then addressed His Holiness in Italian, on behalf of the entire community. Afterwards, the Successor of Saint Peter addressed us.

In his address, he spoke about the blood of the martyred Saint John Ogilvie being a foundation of the College. He also told us that although the persecution that we face may not be as obvious as that which Saint Ogilvie faced, nevertheless we live in a time of martyrdom, in a culture which is hostile to the Gospel. He also told us that we must have the passion and love for Scotland and the Church that our brothers had 400 years ago, when they agreed to return as priests to Reformation Scotland.

After his address, the deacons-to-be presented him with the gifts from our country. He greeted them, and then greeted each member of the community individually. He also imparted his Apostolic Blessing on us and extended it to the people of Scotland.



Remarkably, the thing that made the greatest impression on me was not shaking the Pope's hand; it was, in fact, listening to what he had to say to the seminarians of Scotland. Although martyrdom (in the traditional sense) is not likely, we are expected to give our lives completely to Christ and His Church.

Reflecting on the experience, it was obvious that Pope Francis was happy to meet with us. He showed us a real love for Christ and the priesthood. He was aware of the challenges that we face today in Scotland and around the world, and he ensured us of his prayers for us and our country.