Thursday, 17 January 2013
Our Lady, Mother of Bradford, pray for us
I visited one of our seminarians who is doing a parish placement at St Joseph's, Bradford, late this afternoon. He's doing lots of interesting things: he recently attended a community meeting about drugs in this poor area of the inner city and he is helping with the case of an asylum seeker who is in danger of being killed if he returns to his home country. It's a very different experience from seminary life and just the kind of thing our men need in order to ground them and help them understand the purpose of their on-going formation which, necessarily, takes place at a certain remove from society, in order that they may be sufficiently recollected as they prepare to give themselves definitely for God's work as priests. The life at St Joseph's - which is a splendid jewel in the heart of Bradford, whose interior is exceptionally well illuminated thanks to a new lighting system - resembles that of a seminary in one important respect however: parish priest, Fr John Newman, insists that seminarians staying in the house join him and other parishioners for various parts of the Divine Office. After my chat with our seminarian, Fr Newman invited me to attend Exposition and Vespers so I went into the beautiful side chapel which houses the recently created Annunciation Shrine of Our Lady, Mother of Bradford. The exceptionally gracious white marble statue of Our Lady holding her infant son towards us, who extends his arms outwards in anticipation of the crucifixion, is very affecting: it was transferred from the equally splendid and even larger Church of St Mary which is only about a mile away, the last Mass in which, celebrated about seven years ago, I concelebrated, with a heavy heart, but glad nevertheless to be there. My grandparents, who came to Bradford from Count Rosccommon, used to go to confession at St Mary's and then went for a drink to the nearby Cock and Bottle. When I was a parish priest in Bradford the number of parishes was cut from 20 to ten, so great had been the movement of Catholics out of the city and, let's face it, so astonishing had been the fecklessness with regard to faith of so many, not least the Yorkshire Irish. Within the prayerful oasis of the shrine this evening, however, as the noise of the city penetrated at odd moments, I was aware only of the strength of the Catholic Church, portrayed in all her maternal solicitude by the delicate but steely gesture of the statue of Our Lady, proffering her Son to us, as she looks modestly downwards, conscious of all the darkness which infests our hearts, (symbolised by the drugs being offered no doubt at that very moment to addicts not far away, doorways into hopelessness and unreality) and not wishing to accuse us of sin, but graciously allowing us to look upon her in her purity and recover hope through the very act of beholding her, she the truly human one. As I left, a young man held the door open for me and we chatted briefly before he got into his car. He had been baptised in the church; he now lives some way away. "I love Evening Prayer," he said, with deep conviction. It was worth returning to the city simply to hear those words.