Tag Archive: martyr


download (4)Today we are moving into the Third Week of the Exercises – where we contemplate Christ in his Passion.  It is a ‘test’ of discipleship and any elections made in the Second Week.  Often a dry and difficult period in prayer – as the mystery of the cross is so difficult to penetrate.  Luckily we have a great saint today – Edith Stein.  I am privileged to be celebrating mass today too, so this is my reflection on this great woman.

On the eve of the third millennium, John Paul II named three women as new patrons of Europe, one of them was St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein.  She was a saint of the second millennium, who would accompany us into the third millennium, the Pope said.

Why was Edith Stein so close to the Popes heart?  Why did he feel she was such a powerful patron for us as we entered the new millennium?

It may be helpful to think of three stages to Edith’s Life  1) The towering intellect and public genius   2) Conversion and an irresistible call to a hidden contemplative life      3) Her embrace of the cross and Confronting evil in Auschwitz…. And in this incredible journey she synthesised the dramatic history of the twentieth century in her own heart.

The first part of her life was a journey from Judaism to atheism, of outstanding intellectual achievements, as a pupil and then teaching assistant of the famous phenomenologist Husserl who supported her ambition to be the first female professor – she was fascinated with truth and with empathy, the subject of her doctoral dissertation.  She had built a great intellectual tower – but she did not stay on top of it looking down at the rest of us – like so many of the so called ‘new atheists’

World War One intervened – she worked as a nurse  – but the moment when her unbelief collapsed was when one of her colleagues was killed in Flanders.  She visited his widow and encountered a women with deep faith –  This was in her own words:  My first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it imparts to those who bear it .    ….……  This was a generation whose experience of War had penetrated their hearts, and the search for truth was not a merely intellectual exercise

download (5)So the second phase of her life began – resuming lecturing after the War – she read the New testament, and Kierkegaard and interestingly the Spiritual Exercises – all of which made a deep impression on her (notice she only read the Exercises – she didn’t make them)   However the  breakthrough was when visiting a friend she picked up the biography of St Teresa of Avila and read it all night –  at the end she simply said ‘this is the truth’  – she was to be baptised a Catholic and her work became a combination of Scholarship and Faith ….. ten years later she entered the contemplative Carmelite life – and took up the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Like our own Hopkins – she was to stop writing as she enthusiastically immersed herself into religious life.  This self-imposed silence was to finish as she published a book called ‘The Science of the Cross’ to mark the 400th anniversary of St John of the Cross birth…..  This immersion into the mystery of the Cross was to be prophetic as she was to imitate her beloved Jesus …..

He turned his face to Jerusalem and his passion – she was to be taken to Auschwitz with her sister who had followed her into ‘Carmel’ .  The rounding up of Jewish converts was in retaliation to the Dutch Bishops letter condemning Nazism and its ethnic cleansing.  Her last words to her sister were Come we are going with our people’ as they were rounded up with 987 Jewish Christians and sent today to the gas chambers.

So three steps – from an intellectual tower, to a silent life of adoration and then this profound welcoming of the cross.

One of my fellow Jesuits said yesterday – so many of us want Christianity without the cross – let us pray with Teresa Benedicta that we learn to serve our crucified Lord.

Unblocking Romero


Statue of Oscar Romero outside Westminster Abbey

Statue of Oscar Romero outside Westminster Abbey

We had a special night last Thursday here in Manchester hosting the Romero Trust and Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. Fr Timothy gave an engrossing talk entitled the Disturbing Truth, Oscar Romero, The Church & the Poor – he spoke with a compassion and authority that kept the packed church of 400+ gripped. Oscar Romero was the Bishop of El Salvador who was killed in 1980 for his commitment to the poor.  We were reminded how this quiet, ‘bookish’ bishop was ‘converted’ to the cause of the poor, when he looked on the bullet ridden body of his friend the Jesuit Rutilio Grande who had been assassinated by right wing paramilitaries.  Romero spoke out fearlessly against the repression of the poor from that point on – till it became inevitable that he would have to be silenced.  He was shot dead during mass in his Cathedral, and it was shocking to find out that when they prepared his body for burial they discovered that the inside of his trousers was coated with salt.  It is probable that he saw the assassin at the back of the cathedral before he was shot – and that the anxiety caused an excessive sweating – but he would not abandon the prayer of the mass.

 Timothy Radcliffe lecture 31 10 2013 (6)People came from all over the North of England to hear Fr Radcliffe – and it was clear that there is a great love for Romero. So it is heartening to hear that Pope Francis has unblocked his cause for canonisation.   Timothy argued that for Romero, the fundamental moral choice was between dialogue and violence. Patient dialogue is not about negotiation but transformation. The deepest truths are only attainable through patient exchange, building friendship, transforming our hearts and minds. It is the very opposite of violence. Britain at one level is more tolerant than El Salvador was in the 80’s however a more subtle dynamic of violence is at work.  In modern Britain, the contempt for the poor often takes the form of contrasting the so-called good, hard-working poor, and the imagined multitude of ‘skivers’, parasites devouring benefits.  The uncomfortable truth is that the vast majority of poor people in this country work but simply are not paid enough.  Romero had to be assassinated because he refused to collude in the myth of the wickedness of the poor.

Timothy Radcliffe lecture 31 10 2013 (105) In giving a vote of thanks, Eammon O’Brien, the president of the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy, commended Timothy for inspiring a new generation of Catholics.  He pointed out that the Chaplaincy has just opened the first student-run foodbank in the country, and that his words would inspire them to deepen their commitment to the poor through the regular soup runs, and supporting a breakfast club at a local primary school.  They would challenge the globalisation of indifference and the denigrating language of the poor. It was great to have Bishop Brain of Salford & Bishop Rawsthorne of Hallam with us for the talk.


The Jesuits run one of the most prestigious High Schools in Cairo, Holy Family College,  an urgent message was sent from the superior Nabil Gabriel   on Saturday

College_de_la_sainte_famille_black_whiteThe situation here is very tense. Yesterday Friday, after the noon prayer at the mosque ‘El Fath’ on the Ramses place has started a rally of the Muslim brothers. They wanted to gather there and to move to the El Tahrir Square to take it by assault. The word order was given to all the mosques to rally. …… (later on)…… We must expect retaliation from the Muslim brothers as a result of the disappearance of the two places of ‘sit-in’.  We are watching the news on all channels of information as you. We do not understand the attitude of the West and the United States who defend at any price Morsi and its supporters on the pretext that it was “democratically elected”. They do not want to see the reality in the face and find that they have to do with an international terrorist movement. We have not finished to make the balance sheet of the burned churches as well as other public or private institutions. One thing is clear, they want to take revenge by sowing disorder. We limit to the maximum to travel and are watching the events as you and on the testimony of people who call us. Pray that people demonstrate wisdom and quiet down.

PRO_MiniaAnother Jesuit from the community visited the Jesuit works in Minia, 250 kms South of Cairo along the Nile.  He witnesses sad scenes of destruction in the Jesuit school there and sent photos – Yesterday I went to Minia with Father Magdi, we discovered the state of destruction, there is a lot of material damage: the building of the association JBA is completely burned, the buses and cars are all also burned, the glass for windows of the residence and the school have been broken by the rocks that were launched during the event before-yesterday! For the moment, there is a little quiet, but we expect the demonstration after the noon prayer, it is hoped that they will not nonsense. I praise all what our companions (Brother Radi Mounir, Father Bimal Kerkata, Brothers Amir Adel and Emil-Fawzi ) have done, a tremendous amount to protect the premises. Yesterday we have not slept the whole night to be vigilant after attempts to launch Molotov cocktails on the side of the buildings of the Association!I have just arrived in Cairo, the situation at the place Ramses is disturbing. Pray the Lord to protect Egypt of violence!

Finally we continue to pray for the Jesuits who are missing in Syria – who Pope Francis himself prayed for on the feast of St Ignatius.  Unconfirmed reports are coming through that Fr  Paolo Dall’Oglio has been killed.  Very little of the systematic attack on Christians and Christian institutions is being reported here in the UK by the BBC.  Perhaps it is politically correct shortsightedness, however I think it is due to a pernicious and popular misconception about Christianity – that Christians are the oppresors not the oppresed. ACcording to the Frankfurt based Society for HUman Rights – 80% of acts of religious discrimination in the world today are against Christians.  Aid to the Church in Need estimates 150,000 CVHrisrtians die for their faith every year – that is a staggering 17 people an hour.  However this doesn’t sit well with the smug prejudices of the Western Liberal Elite.   You get a sense of the frustration those who are on the front-line feel (see the superiors message above) as he talks about the attitude of the West.  The excellent commentator John Allen – talks about a Global Persecution of Christians and comments on how under-reported it is – excellent examples are here and here.

Meanwhile all we can do is pray for our brothers in Egypt and Syria or in their words – Pray that people demonstrate wisdom and quiet down and Pray the Lord to protect Egypt of violence!