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 !