Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 14/03/2012

In Memory of Shahbaz Bhatti

On Saturday 10th March Christians of many different traditions came together at Trafalgar Square for a concert calling for religious freedom in Pakistan – and to remember Shahbaz Bhatti who gave his life for the Catholic faith. Mr Bhatti, the then Federal Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan, was shot dead last year in March 2011 whilst travelling to work in Islamabad. As the cabinet’s only Christian minister, he had received death threats for urging reform to blasphemy laws.

At the event the youthful Catholic pop band Ooberfuse also performed their single ‘Blood Cries Out’ in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti at a three hour concert in Trafalgar Square. Ooberfuse, on their website, describe their vision as being ‘to infuse the increasingly moribund traditions of western pop with fresh vigour’. Have a listen!

The concert was followed by a presentation of a petition at 10 Downing Street calling for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which people claim are being used at the whim of extremists to persecute Christians.

Tributes to Shahbaz Bhatti came from Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, Chairman of the International Affairs Department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and Fr.Tim Finigan, Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen.

The Cardinal sent his blessing to the gathered assembly by saying said: “I add my voice to yours calling for real justice for Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan who have been accused of blasphemy..Shahbaz Bhatti was truly a witness, a martyr, and may we also have the courage to testify to what we believe in our own lives as he did.” Similarly Bishop Lang wrote: “Shahbaz Bhatti had a vision for a more tolerant society, formed by his own deep faith. His heroic witness serves as an inspiration and a challenge to us all.” Fr. Tim also said a few inspirational words in person to encourage the crowds who gathered.

Our Holy Father said recently on Mr Bhatti, “All too often, for various reasons the right to religious freedom remains limited or is flouted. I cannot raise this subject without first paying tribute to the memory of the Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death”.

Keep your eyes peeled for a couple more posts on religious freedom over the coming months.

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 05/10/2011

A foretaste of heaven

The season is almost upon us, the preparation sessions nearly done – this autumn small groups in the Diocese of Westminster and beyond will be using a new booklet, A foretaste of heaven, to share their faith and experiences of the wonderful gift of the Eucharist. We heartily encourage you to consider joining a group this season and feel free to have a good read of the resource we’ll all be using.

As well as the booklet, over the next six weeks (16 October to 26 November) we shall be adding a daily entry on this blog to coincide with the Diocese of Westminster’s autumn faith-sharing season. Each of these entries will comprise a short quote or reflection, a reference linking to a relevant scripture passage and an invitation for further thought or prayer. Copies of A foretaste of heaven are available for purchase on line at the Diocese of Westminster’s bookstore:

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 26/05/2011


Today (26 May 2011) is the feastday of St Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorians to which our very own Blessed John Henry Newman belonged. It would, therefore, be quite nice to remember something of this great saint whose music gatherings gave us the word ‘oratorio’ and whose charitable works were legend.Over the recent weeks, the British media has been full to the brim about things they were not allowed to say. The courts had banned reporting on activities by celebrities and others in the public eye and in one, now infamous case, while the papers stuck to (with the exception of a Scottish Sunday paper) many in the ‘twittersphere’ and people on the terraces gleefully named the footballer concerned.

The public image that the footballer had sought to protect with the injunction was arguably worsened through his attempts to avoid comment. The arguments for freedom of the press and for privacy have been well rehearsed elsewhere so I shall confine myself to the story I promised earlier.

St Philip Neri was renowned, amongst other things, as a confessor. One day a well-heeled lady came to him and confessed that she had been gossiping (like most of us, she’d likely done and confessed the same thing again and again). St Philip, before he gave her absolution, told her to buy a chicken from the market and scatter its feathers throughout Rome – a humbling experience for this lady of high standing whose servants would ordinarily have gone to the market. On returning to St Philip, the lady said that she had done as he had asked but again St Philip refused absolution, this time until she had collected in all the feathers.

The moral of this story, of course, is that our words and actions can have a great effect and that once something is said it is so hard to take it back. What is it people say… discretion is the better part of valour?

PS For those of you wondering about our new arrival (see blog entry ‘Our very own advent‘), she is a girl called Anna – a name which means God’s grace.

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 18/05/2011

The Way: A Review

A short while ago, thousands of new Catholics were received into the Church at Easter Vigil services around the world. Given the themes of faith and journeying, the recent UK release (13 May) of the feature film, The Way seems rather timely. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way stars his father, former West Wing star and practicing Catholic, Martin Sheen with cameo appearances by Estevez himself.

The film begins with Tom Avery (Sheen), an ophthalmologist cautioning an elderly patient, who has memorised the eye charts, that she really should wear her glasses. While vision and lens are never mentioned again in the film, the idea of seeing afresh is clearly integral to this touching story of Tom’s travels to northern Spain. A widower living in sunny California, Tom’s comfortable lifestyle is suddenly rocked by a phone call received while on the golf course with a foursome of old friends. He hears that his son, Daniel (played by his real life son, Estevez), who has given up everything to travel, has tragically died in a storm on his first day out on The Camino de Santiago.

Tom travels to the start of The Camino to bring home Daniel’s remains but after meeting with one of the local police, a seasoned pilgrim, Tom cancels his appointments back home and decides to help Daniel finish his journey along the picturesque 780km trail that has attracted walkers since the Middle Ages. Planning to spread his son’s ashes along the way, the solo traveller sets off using Daniel’s kit and carrying a tin box containing the ashes.

Apart from the occasional shots of beautiful statues and crucifixes and the gift of a rosary from a priest, a fellow pilgrim, there is little that might be described as overtly religious scenes along the way. Yet, on closer reflection, the entire journey itself is very much a journey of faith – of ongoing conversion.
Shortly after setting out, Tom inadvertently knocks the backpack and the tin box, off a footbridge and he is forced to follow it into the water to retrieve it. The sacramental reference may be not be explicit but is undoubtedly clear.

Throughout the film, there are scenes where Tom ‘sees’ Daniel enjoying the camaraderie of his fellow pilgrims or giving him a friendly word of advice. Despite his not particularly personable demeanour, Tom slowly connects with several fellow pilgrims: a Dutchman, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) with a very hearty appetite for food, drink and drugs, Sarah (Deborah Unger); a Canadian trying to move beyond an abusive relationship involving an abortion and Jack, a talkative Irishman (James Nesbitt) who is walking in effort to get rid of his writer’s block. Both their day-to-day interactions and their respective inner pilgrimages are as much a part of the story as the trek itself. As their friendships develop, the unlikely foursome discovers the beauty not only of the Spanish countryside but also of the care they come to provide each other.

Reaching the end of this long and winding well-trodden path Tom, like all pilgrims, is invited to a special noon Mass in the historic Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela. The interior shots of the magnificent shrine to the apostle, James are breathtaking. This particular journey is complete and the joy is palpable – somewhat akin to the Holy Saturday Vigil.

Certificate: 12A – running time: 128 mins ……. Click here for cinema times in London as of 18 May 2011:

With thanks to Margaret Wickware for contributing this post.

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 18/11/2010

Our very own advent

The four weeks of waiting and preparation before the Nativity of Our Lord at Christmas can be a very blessed time. All too frequently, however, we can put off thinking about anything because we don’t want Christmas to come too early, or, as is commonly experienced, we can set our eyes firmly on the 25 December with no thought to what the four weeks of Advent (Latin for ‘coming’) can mean.

Waiting is tough. Hardly anyone I know enjoys waiting; impatience seems to be universally present in this age of instant messaging. Whereas before we may have browsed books looking for an answer, finding unexpected nuggets at every turn of a page, now we enter the question on a search engine and get the pertinent information straight away. Gone is the joy of the journey, all that matters is the arrival.

With Advent, we have an enforced period of waiting. We can’t make Christmas come any sooner and so have to learn to deal with our impatience. As I write, my wife and I are expecting the arrival of a new baby. Again, we can’t make this come any sooner, God has allotted the date and time and we have to learn to wait. Our other children are learning that some things are not instantaneous, that a frisson of excitement exists in our own little advent.

As well as reminding us of the original waiting for the birth of their Messiah by the Hebrews, Advent is a time of preparation for Christ coming again in glory (Advent is a translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to describe the Second Coming). Thoughts too turn to Our Lady as we remember her waiting for the birth of her child. This Advent the Holy Father has asked us to remember the value of the unborn child as we await the Nativity of the boy, conceived in Mary’s womb and who grew up to die on the Cross for the salvation of all.

Advent is, indeed, the right time to remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Lambert Beauduin once wrote that the time par excellence for Christian people’s Marian devotion ‘is the cycle of Advent and Christmas. For it is in the expectation of God’s ancient people, at the manger, at Nazareth, in short in all the mysteries of the hidden life, that Our Lady appears to us in all the exaltation of her providential mission and in the shining light of her Divine Motherhood, in all her glories.’ During Advent we recall her preparations for her first-born, her expectations for his life and the change in her own. What a change, for Mary and all humanity, was rung by the angel Gabriel’s announcement, what remarkable faith was shown by Our Lady in her acceptance of God’s gift.

So, my wife and I are still waiting for our own little God-given gift, as we enter into Advent. The preparations have been made, bags packed and arrangements finalised, all that’s left is more joyful waiting – at least with Christmas you know the date!

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 03/11/2010

A simple matter of life and death

This time of year is truly a time of contrasts. As a nation, as a Church we are called to remember those who died in the service of the country and those who’ve gone before us marked with the sign of faith. While our churches are adorned with dark, sombre colours of black or purple for the Feast of All Souls, the trees surrounding our churches are emblazoned with a veritable riot of colour. While the tone and talk is of loss, the harvest is in full swing and, this year in particular, crops and fruit are in abundance. It is with a crisp clarity that we see the joy of life alongside the pain of death.

The seasons mirror not too distantly the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Where in autumn we see the clouds gather as the summer fades and we store up what is needed for the oncoming dark, cold months – so we remember that Christ moved from the joy and triumph of his entry into Jerusalem to the ignominy of his trial and denial.

Once the snows come shrouding the fields, burying the rich soil and the trees stand barren, we recall the shroud wrapping our dear Lord in his tomb, buried in stone, the tree of death standing empty.

Then gloriously, as if from desolation, the first buds, shoots, new life sprout forth. Here it is easy to see the natural cycle and to see the Lord arisen. Such joy as we feel at Easter is all too easily forgotten as we encounter pain and the death of loved ones. Yet ours is a faith in which we are invited to always remember (in the Eucharist especially) the hope that we have in Jesus. Each Eucharist demonstrates to us the triumph of Christ over death, a death and resurrection we have shared in already in our baptism. Our hope ‘is not deceptive,’ says the apostle in his letter to the Romans, ‘because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.’

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 04/10/2010

Carbon-copy Popes and politicians

During Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Great Britain last month, there were many thought provoking moments as well as the gift of his homilies and addresses which serve to challenge both our Church and society as a whole. The Pope himself said that he came as a pilgrim, seeking not to bolster our country’s opinion of him but to proclaim Christ. His gentle wisdom did much to win people over but that was not the idea.

As Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the Pope’s private secretary, said while reflecting on the Holy Father’s ministry, ‘the Holy Father doesn’t place himself at the center, does not proclaim himself,’ but he proclaims Jesus Christ, ‘the only redeemer of the world.’

Much was made of the difference between Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II ‘the rock star Pope’. We daily acknowledge that others have gifts that we may desire, less readily acknoweldge that we have gifts that others would like, however, this difference was consistently pointed up as peculiar. Surely every Pope must be a charismatic showman with a gift for the theatrical. Mgr Gaenswein neatly puts it when he says that each Pope responds to Jesus’ call with ‘his own personality’ and ‘his own sensitivity.’ As, indeed, should we.

As the apostle writes: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons (1 Cor. 12:4-6).

One more, thing, if you’ll indulge me. In his first major speech to the Labour Party conference after his election to the leadership, Ed Milliband distanced himself from former-PM Tony Blair, in particular distancing himself from the unpopular policy of the war in Iraq. Drawing a line under what has gone before, rejecting your predecessor’s policies and plans is not confined to Labour, it happens in corporations and countries across the globe. However, we can contrast this with Pope Benedict who in his very first address upon his election on 19 April 2005 acknoweldged his predecessor as ‘great’.

In this Pope Benedict XVI has given the Church and the world a wonderful lesson. Monsignor Gaenswein once more, and it’s a lesson that needs learning: ‘Whoever begins a pastoral service must not erase the footprints of the one who worked before, but must humbly put his feet in the footprints of the one who has walked and grown tired before him.’

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 27/09/2010

What planet are you from?

Sometimes you wonder what planet you are living on. On the train last week I overheard a lady phoning an ‘exotic vet’ wondering if her pregnant pigmy hedgehog’s baby was ‘stuck’, ‘eleven days overdue’. Compared to that, my concerns, regarding the mortgage and utilities, my children’s schooling and the car tax seemed somewhat prosaic.

What particularly struck me was the sheer breadth of life experiences people ‘enjoy’. On the same train, speaking the same language but the hedgehog lady’s problem was completely alien to me. I could sympathise with her feeling of helplessness confronted with a problem outside of her competence, but it was a very different experience to my every day.

This is the dichotomy at the heart of evangelisation, of spreading the gospel message that each member of the Church is called to proclaim. How far removed is our experience, of church, of faith, of Christ and of God, completely alien to the people we meet today. When we talk – if we talk of our faith – are we going over their heads, or speaking past their ears rather than to their hearts.

Jesus spoke in parables, examples and stories that drew from contemporary life, in order to lead people to a deeper truth. I suppose the question is: can we find a language that speaks of our God to which people can relate? Is it possible for us to find and speak in parables today?

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 16/09/2010

What sort of message do we give out?

Just a short thought!

Over the past few months there have been several negative stories in the newspapers and on the radio, TV and internet surrounding the Papal Visit to Great Britain. All kinds of allegations have been made, many highly personal and often ill-founded (along the lines of: while ordinary Catholics are OK the Pope needs arresting etc.). So too have there been allegations that the ‘secular media’ have an agenda to polarise the population and attempt to relegate religion from the public sphere, removing it from our national narrative – or if it remains, it remains as an oddity.

The word ‘media’, means a method of communication but it shares its root with the words ‘mediate’ and ‘mediator’, which give the idea of being or standing in between the subject and those who will receive the message. Thus, in a very real way we are ‘media’. We are responsible for transmitting the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ to those around us until such time they allow him to enter into their hearts and understand his love for each one of us directly.

Posted by: dowsmallgroups | 04/08/2010

Suffering Christians

Listening to some evangelical preachers we can get an interesting take on Christianity. As with many Jews at the time of Christ these preachers see success in material things as a measure of God’s blessing and love. The corollary, of course, is that poverty is a consequence of sin and God’s removal of his blessing. Likewise, disability – it has been suggested – is a sign of God’s disfavour or even anger. This notion of a ‘prosperity’ bible runs up against the example of history and the Bible itself.

Being a disciple of Christ is no guarantee of a life without pain and suffering. Christ’s disciples – Peter, Paul, Stephen and others – met with martyrs’ deaths. Even Mary, sinless, immaculate, ‘blessed among women’ knew homelessness, social mistrust over her teenage pregnancy, fleeing murderous intent becoming an asylum seeker in Egypt. she saw her only son humiliated and cruelly executed. In the end, however, she saw her son rise from the dead and fully participated in the nascent Church until the time of her assumption.

Poverty, disability, suffering are not alien to us, they are part of the human condition. How we deal with them, helping ourselves and others, is part of the Christian life. Embracing these things, sanctifying (making holy) our lives is our goal not merely success in the material or temporal sphere. For something to reflect on have a read of the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) which is echoed by Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55):

Hannah prayed and said,
‘My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

‘There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth;for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.

The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honour. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

‘He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.’

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