Archive for September, 2012

Faith in & of the Police


Driving into Manchester 10 days ago to drop off my stuff turned out to be a very eventful journey.  My brother and I were riveted to the radio listening to the findings Independent Hillsborough report (click here).  Many friends were involved in the crush at that Liverpool match in 1989, but thankfully no close friends were among the 96 who died, although we knew some of the victims.  As has been known on Merseyside for a long while, but now thankfully by the rest of the world, the subsequent smearing of the fans could well be the biggest cover up in British history lead by South Yorkshire Police.  However as is often the case, out of tragedy and suffering some good has come, including a solidarity with other fans, the beautiful gestures by United at Anfield on Sunday and dignified leadership by Alex Ferguson. So with mixed and strong emotions, my twin brother (an Evertonian) and I arrived in Manchester.  The radio coverage was riveting but one thing that distracted our attention was driving past a huge video screen that was offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a man called Dale Cregan.

Three days later this man, whose face seemed to be all over Manchester, shot dead two unarmed policewomen and then walked into a police station to give himself up.  Acts of wanton destruction and evil like this are always disorienting and confusing.  After a week of anger towards the police for the Hillsborough cover-up, these killings put policing back into perspective.  It is unprecedented for two police women to be killed, and the worst police deaths since the 60’s. But again amidst all the shock, healing started to happen from an unusual source. The Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police in an interview talked about how his faith was helping him.  This is what Sir Peter Fahy, a Catholic, said

“I think a lot of us feel passionately that policing is a vocation. It is a calling. I feel that in terms of my own faith but I know a lot of officers that don’t have a faith, but feel exactly the same – that it is a vocation, that it’s not just a job and I think that’s almost what you go back to in difficult times and difficult circumstances that how unfair something may feel, how inadequate you may feel you do actually rely on that you’re doing your best, and that this is your vocation. The chance for me personally to be able to, every day, to have bit of quiet time, pray, think about your own values, your own sense of vocation, and to examine your own conscience I think is really, really important…… For me personally and a lot of people of faith, prayer is important… you do often feel so helpless, so praying for the dead officers, praying for their families, becomes your own reaction, your own expression of hope really for them, at a time of great need.”

Very powerful words – particularly at a time when there strong pressures to silence the religious voice in the public sphere, or to portray faith as being the realm of bigots and fundamentalists.   It also made me think – would the interview have been picked up elsewhere in the country or is this a fruit of the BBC relocation to Salford?   There is much to reflect on what he said about the healing power of prayer, but maybe more importantly what he also said about examining your conscience.  If only more of the South Yorkshire Police had engaged in that activity more regularly.


Now that a fairly hectic Welcome Week ( which I believe is the preferred term to Freshers Week!)  is drawing to a close, I feel that I am beginning to get my feet under the desk here in Manchester.  I have been hugely impressed by the students involved in the chaplaincy – their commitment, their talents, the passion they show when they talk about the community here. I keep on pinching myself about the great potential there is here.  One story that has amused me already was about a talk that my predecessor, Fr Ian Kelly, had organised. American Cardinal Raymond Burke came  to talk about the New Evangelisation.  400 attended, so the chaplaincy had to book the Whitworth Hall at the university to accommodate a big crowd. The caretaker whilst setting out extra chairs for the arriving guests, surprised at the numbers,  said to one of the students ‘Is this guy the Pope?’. It turned out that Alex Ferguson (United Manager), had been awarded an honorary doctorate the week before and they didn’t need the extra chairs. Well its a good sign that Cardinal Burke can draw a bigger crowd than Fergie!

Already the ‘Faith and Politics’ group has an impressive line up of speakers organised, with Shadow Defence Minister Jim Murphy coming in two weeks (Oct 3)  to talk about his Catholic faith.  A week later we will have Andy Burnham and Jeremy Lefroy coming.  Burnham has been a real key player in the Hillsborough campaign, so even though he is an Evertonian he will be made very welcome!  A friend was at wedding with his family recently and said how impressive it was to see them leave early the next morning to drive back across the country so they could get to mass as their local parish.  Later in November we are hoping to have Paul Goggins, Ivan Lewis, Lord Alton, John Battle and Christopher Lamb, all on the same night!  And then Faith and Politics will finish November with none other than the controversial George Galloway on the role of Faith in politics.   And that’s just Semester One!  So well done to Matthew and Eamon for organising that –  now we are trying to get speakers organised for the faith and Science group – any ideas or contacts let me know!

Stay Fresh for Freshers Week


Greetings from Manchester!  We are in the middle of a hectic freshers week and it is impressive just to see the sheer volume of students arriving here in Manchester.  I count myself blessed to have inherited a very impressive core group of young men and women here at the chaplaincy who commitment and passion for the place is striking.  Freshers seem broadly to fall into two camps, at least at first glance, those who are arriving here from the immediate locality, or surrounding towns and cities, often accompanied by a cohort of friends from sixth form or other schools, and so have an immediate support group to rely on.  Then there are the many freshers who have come from far, often arriving on their own, excited and nervous.  I must admit, this group concerns me more, because they are more vulnerable.  There is a lot of pressure on them to make friends quickly and just a quick glance at the promotions and posters of Freshers Week events – there is a relentless mantra of alcohol, parties etc….. There is a certain peer pressure, with a new-found freedom that is being quite cynically exploited by bars, clubs and the booze industry.  As I said to the students at mass on Sunday night – be prudent, wise, carefully select your friends and don’t do anything that you’re not comfortable with.

I was wondering if I sound like a grumpy old priest, but this analysis was confirmed yesterday in three random conversations.  Firstly a young man came up from Azerbaijan came up to me looking for the Muslim chaplain, after a good chat as he was leaving he said, ‘Pray for me Father that I can stay true to my faith this week.’  I assured him I would, and was very impressed by his words.  A little later I was on the phone to a local printers getting a banner organised, I wanted to know if he could deliver it within 24 hours, and when he asked where I was, he tone changed suddenly and was delighted when I said Catholic Chaplaincy – he then confided to me his concerns about Freshers Week, and that they had considered a campaign which would say ‘Stay Fresh for Freshers Week’.  He wrapped up the conversation saying that we would get the banner for cost price – i.e. straight from the suppliers and they wouldn’t charge us!  His name – Omer and here’s a link to his company (clicky clicky).   Thirdly, later on in the day, I happened to be in the Church showing two students how to operate the disabled lift when two young architecture students came in.  They were saying how beautiful the church was, and told me it was a great space to come and sit amidst the hurly burly of Freshers Fairs etc.  The conversation went in the same direction as the previous ones – about their concerns etc.  And yes – they too were Muslims.  So these three random conversations with Muslim students and a Muslim businessman made me realise – maybe I am not a grumpy old priest after all !