Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A great start to our conference

Professor Tracey Rowland started our conference off in fine style this evening with a lecture entitled "Christ, Culture and the New Evangelization in the Vision of Benedict XVI" which she delivered to a packed auditorium. She analysed with forensic accuracy a post-conciliar tendency to accommodate Church teaching to modernity through a misunderstanding of Gaudium et Spes' affirmation of the automony of the temporal order. This has led to a downplaying of the need to be connected to Christ and had resulted in a profound crisis in terms of religious education. Dr Rowland, who is the Head of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia, noted that Pope Benedict has emphasised on several occasions that renewal in the Church can only happen through a growth of holiness in individuals. It was a wide-ranging and beautiful lecture in which she quoted with equal ease from Church Fathers and Papal encyclicals and it'll soon be available on YouTube. There is a real buzz about Leeds Trinity this evening. Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago was present, as was Archbishop Roche. We learnt at 11am today that Bishop Roche, as he was this morning, had just been appointed by the Pope to be Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments in Rome, and has become an archbishop. He remains Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Leeds for the present. It's an extraordinary feeling: we are, in a sense, fatherless. He's been a great bishop and we'll miss him - but more of that on another occasion. I've got to get to bed to prepare for Archbishop Fisichella's lecture in the morning. Incidentally, there are a few no-shows so if you'd like to come to the conference (even though it's technically full) I'd just telephone and plead.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

An outstanding Eucharistic sermon

We heard a breathtaking sermon at our annual diocesan Corpus Christi procession today, which took place in the grounds of Hinsley Hall in Leeds just before the Olympic torch passed by on the road outside. Fr Peter Kravos, who attended the recent Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, juxtaposed the myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods in order to initiate human civilisation (the latter being that which the Games celebrate), and who was punished for his temerity, with Jesus present in the Eucharist, God giving himself to man, the host in the monstrance representing the white-hot centre of God's love and mercy. Standing only a couple of metres from the exposed Blessed Sacrament and Bishop Roche, Fr Kravos, who is chaplain of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan Universities, then tackled the child-abuse scandal in the Church. He quoted Pope Benedict as saying that the clerical perpetrators of the crimes against children had allowed their faith to degenerate into routine. The ultimate Victim is always Jesus, he said. This current moment in the history of the Church invites us to enter more deeply into the Eucharistic mystery. "As Catholics we are not afraid of mystery," he concluded. It was great: he did not side-step the awfulness of the great harm done but he skilfully placed it within the Paschal Mystery made present on the altar. He conveyed the sense that atonement does not consist in mere reparation: it involves a breaking open of our hardened hearts through fearless engagement with Christ in his victimhood and his Eucharistic glory. It was one of those moments when a sermon becomes an event. Fired with suitable enthusiasm, I set about gathering the names of young people in the assembled crowd for our forthcoming Faith Walk to Egton Bridge in the North York Moors for the annual Postgate Rally: I garnered three email addresses; two girls said they would bring their friends; and then a great layman about my age with a 15-year-old son said that the lad hoped to get some of his friends to come along too. One good homily and everybody wants to participate in the life of the Church. Well used words unerringly strike home.

Pope's men gather in Leeds to help Britain

We are making the final preparations for our international theological conference on the New Evangelisation here at Leeds Trinity next week: . The numbers are looking good - we're inching up to 200 now. That's great because conferences like this usually attract a maximum of about 100 I'm told. However, it's a bit difficult to convey the importance of our deliberations in a press release and the media have been a little slow to respond to the press releases which our excellent PR department has produced. This evening I recalled something a religious affairs journalist once said: if you're not a bishop, we're not interested. The press are drawn by the ecclesiastical celebrity factor. Also, everybody loves a good crisis. Accordingly, I penned the following which I hope will go out in the next day or two. The process reminded me of my three years as a journalist on The Universe before I went to seminary. Happy days (mostly)!

Pope’s men gather in Leeds to discuss way out of religious crisis

The man charged by Pope Benedict XVI with the task of staunching the flow of Catholics from the pews is to speak at a conference at Leeds Trinity University College this week. Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella heads up the newly created Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation. Its brief is simple: make people interested in the Catholic faith once again. He will be joined at the conference, which runs from 26th to 29th June, by other Church leaders and top Christian academics.

Mgr Paul Grogan, Leeds Trinity Chaplain and one of the co-organisers of the conference, said: “Our aim is to consider how we can share the most precious treasure we have, our faith, with the people of our society. That means first and foremost, the people of West Yorkshire. Many people profess to be Christians but their faith has become ‘tired.’ Mass attendance in this country is declining. We want to stop that.”

Among the key themes the conference will examine are the following: Should Christians try and persuade Muslims to become Christians? Should Christians seek to bring about political changes in society? Should the Catholic Church become more democratic? Are women treated as second-class citizens in the Catholic Church?

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, and Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, will also be addressing the conferences, as will leading female academics, including Professor Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne and Professor Susan Wood, one of the most respected US Catholic theologians.

The conference is entitled “Vatican II, Fifty Years On: The New Evangelisation.”

Friday, 22 June 2012

I love my celibacy

"I love being celibate," I told a class of 17-year-olds in our diocesan Sixth Form College, Notre Dame, today. It was in response to a suggestion that if we ditched celibacy then lots of young men would want to become priests. As soon as I had said it, I checked myself and quickly thought through whether what I had said corresponded to reality - I have a tendency to adorn some things that I say with hyperbole. It's because of my Celtic ethnicity. But no, in this instance, speech expressed what is actually the case. Also, the act of naming something had made it the more real. Earlier, Mrs Breda Theakston, the diocesan Coordinator of Family Life Ministry, explained to the class that Blessed John Paul II once said that every person has "a vocation to love." My vocation is to love others precisely through my celibacy. After eighteen years as a priest, my whole mode of relating to people has been shaped by my publicly professed singleness. I would feel bereft if I were not able to enter into relationships, pastoral and personal, with the ease which my celibacy makes possible. I enjoy hanging around with students and having nowhere better to be. I am keenly sensible of the privilege of being the recipient of multiple confidences, a privilege which is connected in part, I think, to my singleness. I don't mind bearing the burden of occasional loneliness, feeling the sacrifice in small part, but simultaneously - and this is the great thing - feeling (or knowing in my soul in a fresh way each time I experience this pain) the presence of God, sustaining me and using my singleness for his unfathomable purposes. The students listened with respect. It's hard to know how to reach out to them, and I don't think I'm good at it, but it's worth the effort. I spoke to six classes in two days and I was exhausted at the end of it. I don't know how teachers keep going. Congratulations to Peter Smith, the Head of the PTE Programme at the College, for inviting in a range of speakers to speak about different aspects of the mission of the Church in this week after the exams. Here are some of the students and staff who engaged in this process (I like the green hair).

True daughter of the Church

Leeds Trinity theology graduand Lauren Jackson recently passed her driving test and her proud parents bought her a nippy little Fiat Uno so that she can zip up and down between her Leeds home and Kintbury where she has secured a job as a senior team member in the St Cassian's Youth Retreat Centre. Being a true daughter of the Church she asked me to bless the vehicle, which I duly did today. I read out the little preface in the Book of Blessings beforehand and we were struck by the theology underpinning the simple act of blessing. It speaks of how modern modes of transportation bring people together and hence contribute to social unity. The intercessions focused on Christ as the Way in whom all our journeying finds its purpose. I hope that Lauren has many happy hours discovering Britain behind the wheel.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Having coffee with Christ

I returned today from the annual, two-day conference for Catholic Chaplains in Higher Education. We met at Loyola Hall in Liverpool. (Katherina Muller, who gave presentations on interreligious dialogue and Fr Dominic White OP, the chaplain at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, are pictured above). It was uniformally excellent. I learnt a number of important things. Firstly, our ministry is "on the edge." Half the time you're not sure what exactly you're doing as a chaplain. You have multiple conversations and most people you talk to don't seem especially changed through having encountered you. Canon John Udris, spiritual director from Oscott College, put our ministry into context beautifully with an extended meditation on the fact that in Chapter 17 of Luke Jesus travelled "along the border" of Samaria and Galilee and it was there that he healed the lepers. We are on the border, between secular society and the Church. Moreover, we meet the Lord on the borders of our weakness and vulnerability. So basically, when I feel useless and ineffective, when I feel I am boring rather than engaging my interlocutor, who gives every impression of being entirely happy with his/her religious indifference, I press on with the conversation. I find that paradoxically deeply encouraging.

The second thing I learnt dovetailed with this. The role of the chaplain is essentially one of "presence." Professor Bart McGetterick of Liverpool Hope University expounded a wide and complex vision of Catholic education which, he said, was manifested in good Spirit-filled relationships and, a corollary of that, justice. The chaplain is one who is charged with building up good relationships within the institution. It's a very adequate, all-encompassing job description.

There was lots more but those are the two things that I found especially helpful. It's great to have a theological rationale for what we do. It has reminded me of the high significance of each pastoral encounter. I once saw Daley Thompson's face before the starting gun in an important 100m race: moment by moment distraction drained away until he was completely focused on the race in hand. It would be good to be so attentive to Christ in the other, as we chat over coffee, the same Christ in, say, the fifth encounter of the day, demanding my attention, as the lepers demanded Jesus's. In the photo above are Margaret Holland (centre) our Chair, and Roberta Canning, our National Coordinator, with Ray Bayliss, the chaplain at Keele University. Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, our President, was with us for the whole of the conference.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Playing with passion

I had one of the best nights out I've had in ages on Saturday evening - I went to a sports bar in Leeds with my brother John and we watched two Euro 2012 games from the same qualifying group simultaneously on two gigantic screens: Greece versus Russia and Poland versus the Czech Republic. A large group of Poles sat to one side of us, dressed in various combinations of red and white, and in front of us there were some Greeks and, I believe, some Czechs. It was the last match in the round and what happened in one game potentially affected the chances of the teams in the other match. People of different nationalities were whooping, holding their hands in their heads desparingly, embracing delightedly and jumping up in the air.

Leeds never used to be this cosmopolitan. I suddently felt that I belong to the European Union. There was real passion in the play on the field and on the faces of the supporters in the bar, but it was channelled properly. I thought: it's possible to be both patriotic and pro-European. "And", as I think von Balthasar said, "is a very Catholic word." Playing football across national boundaries in the highly committed and vigorous way that we saw on Saturday night is a serious means of building up international unity and gives glory to God, the creator of variety. The beer was good too!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Strong and steadfast in Christ

I have just returned from Rome where I participated in a very happy event - the ordination to the diaconate of Phillip Hall, a Leeds Diocesan student at the Pontifical Beda College. Congratulations Phillip! You're going to make a great priest. He is pictured above (in the centre, in a white shirt) flanked by some of his brothers in the diocese (five priests and six seminarians) in the garden of the College following the ordination at the Basilica of St Paul's-outside-the-walls. Bishop Thomas Burns of Menevia ordained Phillip and seventeen of his year at the College - a truly bumper crop!

This is part of the Prayer of Consecration which Bishop Burns said over them:

send forth upon them the Holy Spirit,
that they may be strengthened
by the gift of your sevenfold grace
to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.

May they excel in every virtue:
in love that is sincere,
in concern for the sick and the poor,
in unassuming authority,
in self-discipline,
and in holiness of life.

May their conduct exemplify your commandments
and lead your people to imitate their purity of life.
May they remain strong and steadfast in Christ,
giving to the world the witness of a pure conscience."

Phillip, who hales from Batley and who has a Masters in English Literature, is pictured below with his two brothers, a sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew and with the College Rector, Mgr Roderick Strange. He worked in the banking sector for several years before going to seminary. Whilst at the Beda he has been responsible for both music and sport in the house. In September he will do a month-long placement at St Robert's in Harrogate before returning to Rome to complete his studies. Pray for him!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Gay marriage is impossible

I have just responded to the government's consultation concerning its proposals re "same-sex marriage." I feel a lot better. It is great to engage in the public forum - the privilege of living in a democracy. I'm grateful to the bishops for mobilising us as they have. The campaign has exposed as untrue the lazy, frequently made, criticism that the Catholic Church is somehow "against homosexual people." The Church which is in part made up of people with a homosexual orientation., simply wants to uphold marriage. I sat down and tried to answer the government's question: "Do you agree or disagree with enabling all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony?" I have read various articles in recent weeks by people far more learned than myself. Drawing on their wisdom, here are the four points which I submitted to Her Majesty's government, the government which is charged by her and mandated by the people to uphold the common good of society.

"Marriage is an institution which predates the state and is logically prior to it: it would be illiberal for any government to presume to determine its definition. The state has a responsibility simply to receive and foster what is an essential constitutive part of human culture.

There is no such thing as a marriage ceremony. There is a wedding ceremony which marks the beginning of a marriage. To legislate for any kind of 'marriage ceremony' would therefore be nonsensical.

If a civil wedding ceremony were to be introduced for same-sex couples this would lead to a man and a woman who were married, whether in a civil or religious service, no longer being able to describe their union without qualification. It would breach their right to possess an unequivocal, publicly acknowledged identity.

It is unclear how a marriage following a civil wedding service of a same-sex couple would be consummated. Presumably mere public consent would be taken to be sufficient to validate such a marriage. This would mean that an event whose aim is to join persons would in fact merely indicate intersecting wills."

I was warming to my theme and then I ran over my word allowance. The government is only so interested in what I have to say!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Being the face of Christ

It was a great pleasure today to conduct a Blessing Service for Tricia Brown (on the right, with her colleague Lynn Campbell) on the occasion of her retirement. Tricia, who is a member of the Church of England, has served in the College for 30 years. People often say that Leeds Trinity has a friendly atmosphere, that you sense something upon entering; people of faith attribute this difficult-to-define impression as being an expression of our Christian ethos. The first 30 seconds are the crucial ones. Tricia has mediated Christ's welcome to countless thousands of students. Over coffee after the blessing, which was also attended by our Principal, Professor Freda Bridge, Lynn recounted how Tricia has consistently had an eye open for the students who are struggling. Not infrequently has she gone round the reception desk and given them a big hug when they have shared with her how home sick they are feeling. Job descriptions cannot cover that kind of thing. We'll miss her.
Here's the blessing with which the 10-minute service concluded: Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon Tricia as she approaches the end of her time here at Leeds Trinity. Foster in her your gift of faith so that she may always turn to you for support and praise you for your goodness in future years. May her long service here be pleasing in your sight and be a sweet-smelling offering to you, whose Son, Jesus, was a Servant to all whom he met. May the Holy Spirit give her joy as she steps down from her responsibilities at Leeds Trinity and hope for the future. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Having fun in sunny Scarborough

We had our last Chaplaincy social trip of the academic year last weekend - an overnight stay in sunny Scarborough. The forecast was awful and I nearly called the whole thing off but then I got a couple of emails from students saying how much they were looking forward to it - and I threw myself into the expedition with vim. I'm so glad I did. We went for a five mile walk along the coast just to the north of Scarborough. One of our party was a Chinese lad who had never seen the sea before. As we picked our way over boulders covered in seaweed, he said that it was good but that he had always associated the seaside with beaches and lots of beautiful women sun-bathing. As we were nearing the end of our walk one of the students said: "What exactly is a Catholic, Father?" We were off. And then a little while later one of the Muslim students said, "But if you say that Jesus is God and Jesus died on the cross then God died on the cross, so how did the world continue to exist?" I think I gave quite a good answer in terms of the Blessed Trinity as I started up the minibus, but they would have to be the judge of that. We dined at Harry Ramsdens on the seafront - £5 fish, chips a side and a drink, all cooked in vegetable oil, so the Muslim students could eat it - and then played on slot machines. I felt about 40 years drop off me. We stayed at St Peter's Church - the girls in the presbytery and the lads in the parish centre - at the gracious invitation of my friend Fr William Massie. He had just returned by coach from the diocesan pilgriamge to Lourdes and set about looking after us straightaway. They don't make priests like that down south.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Finding peace

I ascended the second highest fell in Wharfedale yesterday, Buckden Pike. Close to its summit is a memorial to the five members of a Polish Wellington Bomber crew who perished at that spot when their aircraft crashed during a snowstorm in the Second World War. Only the rear-gunner, Joseph Fusniak, survived: he crawled down to the bottom of a valley in the night despite being in extreme pain as a result of a broken ankle. I said the De Profundis for those who had died that night by the memorial. With that memory still fresh in my mind, it was moving today to see the Lancaster Bomber flying over Buckingham Palace as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Yesterday was principally characterised by joy, however. At one point, I lay down in the bright sunshine and surveyed the evocatively named Langstrothdale and its first village, Hubberholme. In the churchyard there is buried the great twentieth century Bradford essayist, novelist and playwright, J B Priestley. I remember once at school reading a very amusing essay that he had written in the 1930s about the pleasures of doing nothing. He remarked that if Herr Hitler had appreciated  these pleasures more the whole of Europe would have been the better for it. From the summit I could see the Howardian Hills on the edge of the North York Moors to the east and, I believe, the near summits of the Lakes in the West. Then, best of all, as I was taking my boots off in the car-park I heard a girl of perhaps ten saying to her parents as they completed their walk, "What a great day! Thanks!"

That would have been enough, but there was more. Passing through Kettlewell, a couple of miles into my home journey, I came upon a Morris Dancing festival to mark the Jubilee. I stood and watched for a good half-hour. It was marvellous. Some groups waved large white handkerchiefs; others carried large batons; the movements were choreographed and were physically quite demanding, but at the same time there was a sense of informality and fun (not unrelated to beer); sometimes we heard loud guttural shouts; at other times men struck their sticks against each other with a loud "clack." It was as if the stuff of life had been taken into the dance and transformed, like in a good drama. The clash of man with man was acknowledged, but the aggression was resolved and in the end the unity symbolised by the dance triumphed.

A trip to Cambridge

Last Saturday evening and Sunday morning I celebrated the Masses and preached at the Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy. Fr Alban McCoy, the Chaplain, greeted me very warmly. Fisher House is very evidently a vital Catholic community under his stewardship: there were students everywhere, as well as a good number of senior members of the university. Fr Alban has just overseen a major rebuilding project on the site. There is now a new church, the Church of St John Fisher, within the shell of what was formerly Fisher Hall, which used to be a multi-purpose room in which Mass was celebrated when I was an undergraduate at Selwyn College, thirty years ago. There is a beautiful specially commissioned replica of Cimabue's thirteenth century crucifix in the sanctuary and a new choir loft. The first of the Sunday morning Masses is a sung Latin one. I manfully offered to sing the Preface. After listening to me in the sacristy the student who is the choirmaster suggested that it might be better for everybody if I said it. I had a couple of congenial meals at Fr Alban's kitchen table where I met some of the people who help him and some of the students. I have come away greatly encouraged. Here I am after one of the Masses with Sister Ann Swailes, the Chaplaincy Assistant, and two men from Leeds Diocese, James Lawson, beside me, and Callum Wood, second from the left.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Grad Ball

I attended the Graduation Ball tonight at the Marriott Hotel in Leeds. All the students had scrubbed up well and looked very elegant. I said grace at the beginning of the meal. One hundred and fifty students were suitably silent as I said an impromptu prayer, thanking God for the three years which had gone and asking for his blessing upon the graduates as they moved on. There was a loud whoop at the end and a round of applause. The Catholic Women's League never used to behave like this when I was in parish ministry. As the evening continued and I tucked into my goats cheese pastry, it being Friday (thanks a lot bishops), I looked round the room feeling rather fatherly and recalled moments I had shared with these smashing young people: a Chaplaincy walk in the Dales when I first conversed with that particular woman; the time when another young woman zipped through the trees on a pulley on a "Go Ape" adventure, screaming joyfully; the time when I joined two students, a young man and a young woman, dancing in the aisle in the Alhambra Theatre at a "Mama Mia" Abba-tribute concert - one of them has just got a teaching job, the other is still looking. It's a hard world out there. I hope everybody is going to be all right. Congratulations to Marcus Myrie, the Students' Union Vice-President, for organising a very good evening. He very kindly gave free tickets to me and Dominica Richmond, the Chaplaincy Administrator. Here I am with three of Leeds Trinity's finest: Max, Chris and Luke.