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AMDG

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Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is  a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence.  Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies ….  things can change however.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue  to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

gress-CZESTOCHOWA-650x340A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day  celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

AMDG

Cheap-FlightOne of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel.  For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus.  In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion.  Now it is run of the mill.  As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind.  So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement.  I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks…  an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence.  But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be  justified ) .

Elysium-wallpapers-141There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium.  It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi.  Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority.  The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title.  The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens.  Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story  has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon)  – who is an orphan.  So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor.  Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?

_90030142_033584780-1Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit.  The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy.  I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy.    Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders…  partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out.  In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.

AMDG

_75516940_citizencamCommunity Organising is now more important than ever before.  With traditional politics in crisis, Labour facing possible extinction, Conservatives descending into recriminations after an unnecessarily divisive referendum, many people feel insecure and anxious about the future in Britain.  Politics is not a game, it profoundly affects peoples lives and it is the most vulnerable who don’t have the cushioning of a bubble to live in or escape into. So it is time for Civil Society to step up and take responsibility, not to leave it up to the politicians, or just the business community.   Citizens UK have proven to be the most effective at this – delivering the living wage, stopping refugee children from being detained in this country, putting the ‘legacy’ narrative into the London Olympics etc.

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A young Barack Obama – started as a community organiser in Chicago

So we are delighted to announce that yesterday, June 29th, 2016, we were in a position to interview candidates and on the back of that have appointed a community organiser here in Manchester.  It is the birth of Greater Manchester Citizens.  It has taken about a year to find the funding to build up a salary for a community worker, and we are very grateful to Oxfam, Bishop John Arnold, The Royal College of Nursing, Sir Peter Fahy for helping us do that.  We are hoping the Tudor Trust, UNISON, the two big universities and football clubs are soon going to follow. This will allow us to build a broader coalition in time for DevoManc which is our first target.  If we find more ‘seed funding’ then we could even have a second organiser in place before Christmas. Not everyone has been helpful of course, there has been considerable resistance by ‘the establishment’. It is amazing how parochial we can be ‘up north’.  However there has been some really encouraging support – people who realise as the General Secretary at Unison told me – this is of the ‘zeitgeist’.

1The main task of our organiser(s)  is to build a coalition of  member institutions.  They will go to schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, student unions, trade unions, charities and build up relations.  They are trained to listen to what concerns them the most, it may be housing, local security, healthcare etc.  When I was in North London it was how insecure the boys at the Jesuit school felt about being mugged for their phones, and being chased by gangs – so they started the City Safe campaign – It saved lives.  Once they see how we are able to engage with power and are recognised, they will subscribe as member institutions and this will allow them to help set our agenda.   What is in it for me?  What is my ‘self-interest?’  – I hope it will engage the students with serious campaigns.  Often it is the religious institutions that are the backbone of grassroots community action. I think Citizens allows Catholics to work productively with other Christians. Muslims etc. from this working together comes deep and lasting friendships. This is so important in our turbulent times!

Excellent videos to describe Community Organising are Here  and Here 

 

 

 

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