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Wednesday, 20 October 2010 12:59

Our Day with Pope Benedict

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donboscoonpapalstageOur day started at 6.45am. We thought this was rather early but later discovered it was nothing compared to some other groups. Seven of us gathered together at Clapham Junction to represent the Salesians of Don Bosco. All decked out in our official Papal tee-shirts and wristbands we trundled off to Victoria Station where we would join our first queue of the day to gain access to the piazza in front of Westminster Cathedral. We were soon engulfed by the diocese of Shrewsbury and Hexham and Newcastle who swiftly started chanting and singing, competing to see who was the loudest. They were even managing to wake some of the neighbours. When we got in to the piazza there was an amazing atmosphere of anticipation and joy; being there with 3,000 young people made our Salesian presence very special. We shared stories, laughter and even biscuits with the people around us. When Mass started the young people settled and were very reverent. Although most were freezing, sitting on the cold ground, no one complained. After Mass, Pope Benedict made his way to the back of the Cathedral to greet the young people and he exited to the most deafening roar imaginable: the atmosphere was electric! The Salesian group had managed to get very close to the front and were only about 15 feet from the Pope; we felt truly blessed to be so close.

donboscopiaza

The piazza then started moving out in to the streets where we were moved together around the front of Buckingham palace and up to Hyde Park Corner and in to Hyde Park. This was an amazing witness to the people of London. We were young people celebrating our faith and were a true witness of the love that young people have of their faith. During this we met up with many other Salesian groups, the Salesian College Farnborough walked behind our banner and the Brettargh Holt team were walking just in front.

After some lunch picnic style we were given new, sparkly, wrist bands and asked to make our way to the ‘Golden Circle’. To our utter amazement we were put in seats that were 12 rows from the front with the most amazing view of the stage and we knew we were in for a good view of the Pope when he arrived. The afternoon was very moving with a variety of different performances, reflective moments, testimonies and singing and went very quickly, but the highlight for our group was getting on the stage with the banner and being able to shake hands with the bishops of England and Wales. The young people said being able to see the size of the crowd was an unbelievable sight.

popeyAs the sun set the Holy Father arrived to lead us in a vigil of prayer and adoration. To be in a crowd of 80,000 people praying was certainly a moving experience. I’m sure the community back in Battersea could hear us sing. There were moments of complete silence and stillness which made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end: so many people, praying all at the same time, all for the same reason. The Vigil was definitely the highlight of the whole day. With the sun long gone the Pope had to depart but it was once again with the loudest cheer of a crowd who felt truly special to have witnessed a remarkable event.

Although we were only a small official Salesian group, the Salesian presence was spread among the crowd with Salesian Young People, Volunteers, Co-operators, SDBs, FMAs, Schools and Parishes, all joining other groups and diocese. In both the ‘Golden circle’ and in the main arena, Don Bosco was very much present not only on the stage but within the people. Our day was a day filled with much joy, love and hope for the future. It was a day that has given us lasting memories and a day which we will talk about for years to come.

Thursday, 14 October 2010 12:59

BOVA Return Volunteers Weekend

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After so many life-changing, inspiring and challenging experiences from all over the world, it seemed a shame to let that all slip by as we fell inevitably back into the rush and busyness of life. A ‘returned volunteers weekend’ was therefore arranged for us to revisit those experiences, to share them and to hear those of others. This weekend was filled with stories, reflections, memories which gradually became a platform for us to become re-engaged with the passion and excitement of working towards change in our world and justice for those with whom we had spent time with on the various projects. One volunteer commented that “I came away from the weekend with a new lease of energy and inspiration for justice and peace work” and this is exactly the point of such a weekend. The idea is that this isn’t a one off occasion but will become an ongoing opportunity for idea sharing and a time for reinvigoration!

As always, it wasn’t just all work and no play. The weekend kicked off with an evening of welcoming and games that enabled those present to get to know one another BOVA-styley!

On Saturday, a session on Salesian spirituality by Fr Martin enabled a time of reflection. Our visitor for the weekend, Dan from Progressio, facilitated a space for us to start to recollect our experiences; to work out how we felt before and after – was it what we expected, was our time there long enough, how challenged were we by our experience? We then shared stories of our trip, each story personal to the teller but many surprisingly similar: “I thought it was wonderful to listen to the stories that the other volunteers had brought back. The differences between the numerous projects were interesting, but what was amazing were the similarities we discovered were commonly shared between our various experiences.” This collective sense that what we were experiencing across the world and in so many different projects is not so different after all, gives us a hope that what we face isn’t so great a hurdle to overcome but the same aim is being achieved in so many different places.

However, the main aim of the weekend was to look at ways in which we could pool our ideas, resources, skills and time to come up with a way in which we could push forward the energy, excitement and hope that was kindled over the course of the weekend.

There was the idea to hold a competition for photos for a calendar and Christmas cards that would advertise the work of BOVA and raise awareness of the Salesians’ work around the world.

It was suggested that there is a need for more Dev Ed training and so Bravo/Encore was proposed as a way in which a weekend could be dedicated to exploring and discussing and learning more about the issues and injustices that affect the communities with whom we stay.

With an aim to better prepare prospective volunteers, ‘mini communities’ could be started which would be a point of contact for anyone with questions about a possible placement or about fundraising initiatives or about resources that are available to use.

Other ideas were about reaching out to other groups of people, for example retired volunteers, or working with disabled children.

It was suggested that collated articles and messages home could form a book which could then be a resource used to advertise BOVA and the work that it achieves, giving a very real insight into a volunteer placement.

It was noted that there are bodies of people where there is a need for a presence of volunteers to tell their stories and encourage more people to get involved with the work of BOVA. These groups are our local communities, our schools and our parishes as well as the proposal for holding an action day which can be accessed by many different people that will be a way for them to have an insight into the injustices that we have seen and to look at ways in which these injustices can be overcome.

A group will look at ways to tell the stories of young people gathered from host communities.

These are very exciting opportunities for us to become continually involved and fired up for making a difference so if any of the ongoing projects inspired you, don’t let the chance to be involved pass!

“I was inspired by the amount of energy and passion people brought to the weekend. Not only did we come up with loads of ideas, but people committed to seeing them through. There was also a real interest to see more weekends like this in the future, which I’m really looking forward to.”

“It was fab, wasn’t it?”

“Thanks again for a fantastic weekend. It was really great.”

“I enjoyed the ‘Salesian-ness’ of the weekend, coming together, sharing responsibilities, stories, fun and games. It was a great opportunity to reflect on our experiences abroad and just to have a good chat with people who had been there and knew what we were talking about.”

“I was excited to be amongst so many passionate and caring people which then inspired me to rediscover my feelings and desires for social justice and peace. A very enjoyable and inspiring weekend.” “The weekend was brilliant!”

“I’m already looking forward to the next one”

Tuesday, 12 October 2010 12:59

Educating Young People to Social Justice

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Over 150 educators from our Salesian Schools and Retreat Centres in Great Britain took part in a Salesian Education Conference on Saturday 9th October 2010. The theme of the day was Educating Young People to Social Justice. The conference, organised by the Salesian Youth Ministry Team and facilitated by YAT (the Youth Advisory Team), took place in the Archbishop Grimshaw Catholic High School in Solihull, near Birmingham.

Teachers and senior staff from the five secondary schools run by the Salesians of Don Bosco and the one secondary school run by the Salesian Sisters were present, together with members of the youth retreat teams from Savio House and Brettargh Holt.

There were three main speakers. Mr David Wells, a member of the Plymouth Diocesan Department of Formation specialising in adult Religious Education, gave the first presentation on the Church’s teaching on Social Justice, with particular reference to the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK. Sr Ann Teresa, a sister of St Joseph of Annecy and Founder of the Medaille Trust, spoke about her work with the victims of human trafficking. In the afternoon Fr David O’Malley SDB, the well known writer on Salesian Education and Spirituality, showed how the Church’s teaching on Social Justice and the UN Rights of a Child can be lived out in the Salesian realities of Family, Church, School and Playground. Fr O’Malley illustrated his talk with several amusing practical exercises which caught the imagination of the audience.

There was also a short presentation about Bosco Volunteer Action (BOVA) by James Trewby, the National Organiser, and James Murray, a past pupil of Thornleigh Salesian College Bolton, who had recently spent time working as a volunteer with the Salesians in Baku, Azerbaijan.

As Saturday October 9th was the feast day of Blessed John Henry Newman, we ended the conference with a Mass in his honour, celebrated by Fr Martin Coyle SDB, our GBR Provincial.

Thursday, 23 September 2010 12:59

Praying with Young People

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passarelloAs a department leader, I insist that every period of teaching starts with a prayer. About three years ago I began to question why I insisted upon this. Is it acceptable to say prayers just for the sake of it? When a teacher says a Hail Mary at the start of every lesson, what impact does it have on the spirituality of our students? Very little I suspect. Prayer at the start of a lesson should be a positive experience for our learners, should be linked to lesson themes and objectives and could encourage students to pray more in their lives. Prayer needs to be a positive experience for both the teacher and the student. When we asked students and RE staff about their praying habits, most said that they couldn’t recall the prayers that were said at the start of lessons and that they had been said simply because it had become a matter of routine.

I began by asking students about times when they have prayed. The results were varied, it was clear that some element of prayer did exist in their lives. Responses were mainly; I pray when I go to church, or, I pray when someone is sick or when bad things happen. When asked if prayers continued when they had received what they had prayed for, students were a little evasive. On the whole, children said that they simply did not pray. I decided to think about prayer from the perspective of a 14-year-old student and began to think about the picture that I have of their lives. I could never imagine the level of stress that these students have in their daily lives. Many live in broken homes, some having no male role model or father figure.

Some are expected to fulfil adult roles and behave in adult ways at a young age. Unfortunately, some have been brought up in deprived areas with experiences of social problems. Some students, from affluent areas, have lived in homes with parents who have very intense careers and the typical idea of the nuclear family is certainly one that most of our students would not be able to comprehend. Some are brought up as Catholics, but are not taken to church or supported in their faith by their parents. Their parents were brought up in a similar way. Children’s lives are more varied today, as are their experiences and the consistency of these experiences. Having thought about their lives in more depth I went back to a selection of children and asked them about times when they are quiet, times when they reflected and probed for information about times in their lives when they obviously do pray, but they don’t understand this as being actual prayer. Their responses have led me to believe that it is not the children who have abandoned prayer rather it is adults who have misinterpreted their needs. Typical responses were:

• When I am stressed I will go to a field behind my estate where I will sit and look out upon all the people who I know. It helps me to relax and to think. • At night, before I close my eyes, I go through all the things I have done during the day and think about all the things I need to do tomorrow. • I get stressed when revising for exams, so a friend has taught me some breathing exercises that help me to focus on my revision and break it down into manageable chunks. • When I need to think things through I go to the gym and get into the zone. When I have finished I feel a lot more positive. Are the children here not describing elements of reflection, peace, ways of prioritising their emotions and energy, relaxation techniques, focus and requests for time out in their hectic lives? A typical prayer does not have the desired affect and maybe children have found their own way to focus and to direct their thoughts to a higher power. Because of this we decided to try out a few things in the RE department. Firstly, our daily worship is now linked to major events that have happened or the topic content of our lessons. Prayers are sometimes tactile, opportunities to use actions. We have really been helped by the production of Swatch and Pray by Fr David O’Malley. This series of prayers and reflections is accompanied by linked actions and elements of focus that allow the students to visualise their prayers and thoughts and make it real to them in their lives. Usually a member of staff will select a passage that may link into a lesson or form period. Students have their favourite prayer and many request to have a certain reflection read out. It has certainly enhanced our collective prayer experiences and has been adopted as a whole school approach to prayer.

In addition, the RE department has listened to the feedback from students and has built into the curriculum key opportunities for children to pray. This is done via guided journeys and meditations which are held in the school chaplaincy room or the school chapel. The students are taken through breathing exercises before being given advice on how to focus and clear their minds so that they can fully become in tune with the reflections. They are then taken on a journey accompanied by music, incense and candles and are encouraged to think about the things that they need to prioritise in life. This is done in a subtle manner and relies on complete trust between the teacher and the student. The students love doing this. They are at peace throughout the session and show a maturity that helps to prove that prayer is still important to teenagers. They tell us that they rarely get time to be quiet and that stillness and peace usually comes only via sleep. The constant requests for meditation are now overwhelming and it is up to my team to ensure that students fully understand why we do this and get them to try and do it in their personal lives.

So it isn’t difficult to get children to pray; they actually want to pray. The difficulty is making prayer relevant to their life experiences and shaping it in a form they can enjoy, feel safe participating in and gain peace. The proof is clear for observers in our school to see. Students are curious about prayer and they are obsessive about buying and carrying symbols of their religion. SDB badges and lapel crucifixes are worn by many; there are constant requests for more. Rosary beads are very popular and we have held classes to show students how to use them traditionally and in a more modern way. Prayer is obviously still an important part of the lives of our children; but it took us some time to understand their needs. The challenge is to find out how to help young people to make prayer meaningful and important.

Wednesday, 01 September 2010 12:59

BOVA Return Volunteer helps out at VIDES Summer Camp

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This July, I agreed to get involved with a VIDES UK Formation camp in Bootle, Liverpool. It was the third year that VIDES had been in Bootle, so people mostly knew what to expect – but having never done a VIDES camp before, I didn’t know what to expect but I was very excited!

I always find it difficult to explain the Salesians to people in a concise way that doesn’t receive a glazed look, but puts across the right level of excitement! I find talking about camp exactly the same. For a start, most of my friends and family assumed that I was actually camping and it was similar to a Scout Camp type thing. But no, we weren’t outside in tent, but I was sleeping on a community hall floor (imagine your old school hall, like that) and being the forgetful little miss that I am, I didn’t have an airbed, so I actually was on the floor! By the end of a long day, you would be able to sleep anywhere!

The easiest way to describe camp is more of a youth week / out of school activities. But that description doesn’t give it justice! The vast amount of preparation and hard work that goes in from all the volunteers to make it more than any old holiday scheme really pays off! It’s very much a Salesian camp, and I felt at home there straight away, having no real experience in such full on work. A ‘normal’ day would start with a get up at 7:15 followed by breakfast and volunteer formation. My only experience of formation has been on BOVA training weekends, so to have daily formation during the volunteering was amazing. It was great to be able to share, reflect and grow together as volunteers. Sr. Linda led the formation and I think she enjoyed watching us make fools of ourselves in some of the activities. But that’s what my experience of Salesian volunteering is all about – you have to be prepared to make a fool of yourself to make situations more comfortable for young people to get involved in and even for fellow volunteers.

After formation came the arrival of the juniors. We had the juniors from 10am – 2:30pm, and they were aged between 7 and 11. It was always a crazy start to the day, keeping between 20 and 50 kids animated while everyone was registered. I think all the volunteers lost their voices at some point during the week, but our version of The Princess Pat is well worth it! The day began with a Salesian Good Morning, a thought for the day that would link in with the theme. It’s these small thoughts and little bits that make camp more than a youth week, but a Salesian camp.

This year VIDES tried something new having activity zones which corresponded to the theme for the week which was, ‘We Are The World’. I was very impressed and thankful that we managed to get through the entire week without using USA Africa’s we are the world! I was working on the India activity zone with the 10 and 11 year olds. The other activity zone was Mexico for the younger children. We had some fantastic activities and ideas for our India group. Although we had the older children, it became quickly apparent that their attention span was near enough non-existent! So we had to keep then entertained and animated constantly. We decided as a group of volunteers to teach the children a little bit of language each day. We chose Hindi as it is one of the most widely spoken of the Indian languages. I think the kids picked it up a lot better and a lot quicker than me! It was great to see them get so involved and excited. I think one of our most successful activities over the week with the juniors was dressing up as Hindu Gods and Goddesses. We gave them a short introduction to some of the different Gods and Goddesses there are, and armed with black bin bags, sequins, feathers and whatever else we could find lying around they created the most magnificent costumes and paraded them around for the other children and volunteers on camp.

Then it was lunchtime! Always a joy as I was always hungry! Lunch was a great opportunity to talk to the children and have a laugh away from organised activities and get to know the children who aren’t in your activity zone. There were two of the kids who became attached to myself and another of the volunteers. I’ve never experienced my name screeched at such a pitch before. They were lovely kids though, when you managed to separate them!

After lunch, we split off into celebration preparation groups. At the end of camp on the Saturday, we invite the parents and the community in to celebrate the week and the work that the children have been doing. I was working with the Music and Drama group. We decided to make a big stomp group using whatever we could find about the place – spoons, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, cardboard tubes, plastic cups, straws… It worked really well, and some of the kids had a surprisingly good sense of rhythm and beat. The Music and Drama sessions were so chilled, it was great fun. It was decided that the Music and Drama group would write the script for all of the celebration and we decided that as the theme was ‘We Are The World’ to travel around the world – or to the 7 continents at least! We were struggling for anything for Antarctica. I was shocked to see how they responded to the penguin song I decided to teach them. I learnt the penguin song when I was on a HCPT Pilgrimage to Lourdes at Easter. I thought it might be too young for the group and they’d scoff at me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!! They loved it, dressed up as penguin’s curtsey of yet more black bin bags and orange card. It was amazing – definitely a highlight of the week!

(This you tube video doesn’t do justice to the penguin song! We had much more energy, smiles and don’t forget costumes!)

Then it was time to say goodbye to the juniors, rush to the local leisure centre to get a quick shower and prepare for seniors. I must mention the community at this who provided a mountain of home cooked meals for us every day! They sustained very well. So here’s an official Thank you to the community of Bootle!

Seniors arrived at 7pm until 9:15pm. Seniors was always much more relaxed than juniors, less crazy animation more chilling and talking. I say that, but our sports co-ordinators had other ideas… At times it was like basketball boot camp it was so intense! But the young people really appreciated the energy and passion that was put in from the co-ordinators and it’s probably the main reason that football was rarely played throughout the whole week. I sometimes found seniors challenging, simply making a connection with the young people and carrying a conversation could be really difficult. It was easy for me to play sport or table tennis and feel involved and take the easy route. But some of the girls especially didn’t like to play sport the whole time. I remember one evening making friendship bracelets with a group of girls, and we didn’t really talk together. They spoke to each other and I listened, just feeling that I should show my presence. It paid off in the end, the next evening they involved me in the conversation. It’s a different ball game with the seniors; you have to show them that you’re there and that they can trust you.

Seniors ended with a Salesian Goodnight, similar to the Good Morning we did with juniors. Goodnights were more in depth and the young people were more involved, addressing issues such as stereotyping, being different and smoking. The smoking goodnight was interesting, and even had an effect on some of the volunteers who smoked. The volunteers decided to ‘make’ a recipe for a cigarette and mix all the ingredients together in a pot. It had toilet cleaner, tar and ethanol in. It smelt horrid! But had the desired effect, making the young people think and leaving them with a thought.

There’s so much more I can write about camp this year, I missed so much out and probably haven’t done it justice! All I can say is that I enjoyed my week in Bootle so much! I felt so welcomed and wanted and I learnt so much! Roll on next year!!

Megan Russell is a ex-pupil of Thornleigh Salesian College and spent 18 months in Swaziland as a BOVA volunteer. VIDES is an international Salesian project ran by the Salesian Sisters in the UK.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 12:59

SOS 2: In Pictures

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Saturday, 15 May 2010 12:59

Farnborough Students in Lourdes

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During Easter Week 2010 fifty one sixth formers and fifteen staff members from Salesian College Farnborough and Alton Convent were ‘Called to Serve’ pilgrims in Lourdes, especially the five thousand on the annual HCPT pilgrimage Trust for children and young people. They were led by Mr Patrick Wilson, Headmaster of Salesian College.

It was in 1992, nearly twenty years ago, that a small group of sixth form students from the Salesian College in Farnborough, Hampshire, decided to offer their services as a helper group to HCPT. For the last twelve years nearly every member of the Lower Sixth at Salesian College has volunteered to go to Lourdes with HCPT, each paying their own fare. About ten years ago students from the nearby Alton Convent joined the group.

The young people supported the pilgrimage in a variety of ways:

helping the groups looking after children with disabilities

acting as stewards

carrying banners and the statue of Our Lady in processions

singing in the choir and playing musical instruments

dramatising the Gospel and animating the liturgy

… and so on!

As well as serving others the young people had the opportunity to visit the important places associated with St Bernadette in Lourdes, take part in the Stations of the Cross and celebrations of the Eucharist in the ‘City of the Poor’ and other places, and spend a day in the beautiful mountain scenery of Gavarnie.

One of the students commented:

Prior to going to Lourdes, I fully understood the concept that it was purely for the children, and making this week the most enjoyable week we could possibly give them. However, throughout the course of the week I realised something. I realised that by making their time enjoyable, the spiritual reward and satisfaction I received made it all the more enjoyable for myself.

Friday, 12 February 2010 11:59

Our Lady of Lourdes is 50!

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The church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Newent, Gloucesteshire, was opened in 1960. Fifty years later there were Golden Jubilee celebrations in the newly refurbished church.

On Thursday 11th February, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the parishioners came together for a Mass of Thanksgiving and Celebration. The Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton, was chief celebrant and offered a Blessing Prayer over the new sanctuary furniture: the Presidential Chair, the Ambo and the Altar, as well as blessing the new entrance and extension. He was assisted by Fr Francis OSB, Abbot of Prinknash Abbey, Fr Michael Winstanley SDB, our Provincial and Fr Bernard Massey. Dean of Gloucester. We were delighted to have Fr Bill Boyd, builder of the church, as Guest of Honour. Also concelebrating were Fr Sean, Fr Aidan and local priests: Fr Kevin Hennessy, Fr Barnabas Page, Fr Gary Brassington and Fr Donal Daly.

 

The music group was led by Bernadette Kilty and Joe Skivington. Incidentally, Joe and Fr Michael had been present at the opening of the church in 1960!

On Friday 12th February we had an ecumenical Celebration: a series of short talks on the history of the parish, interspersed by classical choral singing by Joe Skivington’s Newent Scottish Choir. Fr Sean Murray delivered the speech of the night by explaining for our visitors how the school in Blaisdon rose out of the innovative youth work in the 19th century of Don Bosco and delivered an outstanding service to the neglected young of the 20th century. No one quibbled that his ’5 minutes’ lasted 20 minutes.

 

A small book was compiled by parishioners to commemorate the event. It is called MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD, with a cover price of £3.99. It gives an overview of the history of Catholicism in the parish and in the Forest of Dean, from earliest times. Interestingly, there are 20 Anglican churches in the area covered by the present parish that are of pre-Reformation origin. Other articles cover the Reformation, the building of the church and the progress of the parish community.

Friday, 05 February 2010 11:59

The Clare's 50th

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glasgow100129aOn the Feast of Saint John Bosco, 31st January 2010, the Salesian parish of Saint Clare in Easterhouse celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation. The principal celebrant at the Golden Jubilee Mass was Bishop Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell diocese, and the Salesian Provincial, Fr Michael Winstanley was among the concelebrants.

The young people of Liberia who are being sponsored through school by the parishioners of St Clare’s Parish sent two beautiful banners to the parish as their contribution to the celebrations. The parish priest, Fr Jim McGarry, said “We are delighted to receive such a beautiful gift. It’s another sign of the good friendship that is growing between Easterhouse and Monrovia.”

The wording on the first banner is Thank God for the people of St Clare Catholic Church for bringing relief to the children of Liberia. The second reads Liberian children going to school courtesy of St Clare Catholic Church. As you celebrate the great jubilee, 50 years of existence, may our Blessed Mother Mary guard the people of St Clare as they care for the needy through education and humanity. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 11:59

Snow Stopping Savio Volunteers

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savio-snowThe volunteers of Savio House, Bollington, kicked 2010 off in style when they took a trip to The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, earlier this month to join volunteers from Catholic Youth Ministry Centres from all around the country to take part in the annual Volunteers‟ Gathering. Daniel Antonio, Chloe Ceairns, Amy Flood, Jonny Dearden, Judy Oliver, and Polly Witter with Fr Martin Coyle SDB (Rector) and Jessica Wilkinson (Retreat Team Leader) arrived on Sunday 3rd January, the second day of the event, due to heavy snow preventing the team from travelling on the Saturday, when the conference was scheduled to start. This unfortunately meant that they missed two of the three talks delivered by the events key speaker, Monsignor Mark Crisp, which explored the theme of the weekend, “God Speaks”.

Volunteers from Alton Castle, Soli House, The Briars, Castlerigg, Kintbury, St Vincent‟s, SPEC/SPEC East and In Reality (Hallam) were lead through the gathering by Sarah and David Beresford, Directors of Walsingham House and were given the opportunity to get to know each other and share their experience of their faith and ministry by taking part in a range of activities. These included small group discussions based around the theme of the gathering along with workshop sessions which covered a whole array of interesting areas. The workshop options ranged from learning about Pope John Paul II‟s teaching on the Theology of the Body to Sport, which basically involved a run around in the freshly-fallen snow! The Savio team were lucky enough to experience a range of different workshops, such as Story Telling (which was lead by an experienced professional story teller), Art (involving preparations for an altar hanging for the evening Mass) and an Interactive Physical Quiz, which involved playing some silly games which could be taken back to Savio for use with the hundreds of young people who come through their doors throughout the year.

The venue for the event could not fail to impress, with The Hayes providing first class facilities for the volunteers. With fantastic food, very comfortable accommodation and friendly hospitality from the staff – what more could a volunteer ask for?

The weekend gave the teams a chance to pray alongside each other and to support each other spiritually, aided by the thought-provoking discussion material and the beautiful liturgy which took place in the form of the evening Mass. This was a wonderful, prayerful occasion, celebrated by Fr Bill from Soli House and music provided by the talents of Walsingham House. Mgr Mark Crisp delivered the homily which again drew on the theme of “God Speaks”, as well as thinking about the day‟s feast, the Feast of the Epiphany. With spirits high, the congregation‟s renditions of „Days of Elijah‟ were sure to continue throughout the evening! The Mass was followed by an extended time of praise and worship, during which the Sacrament of Reconciliation was on offer for those who wished to receive it. This time of prayer was seen as a highlight by many team members, having been moved by the special atmosphere created. The night prayer which followed was especially moving, with each community praying for each other by laying on of hands – a very faithbuilding experience for many.

But the celebrations did not stop there!

The gathering was lead in evening entertainment by a Cahleigh band, which got everyone up on their feet and swinging their partners for hours on end! A fantastic time was had by everyone…except the directors! After the band had finished playing, the directors from each centre performed some additional entertainment for their teams, much to their delight!

“You sing, we‟ll dance,” said a rather perturbed Fr Martin. Yet, true to his word, the newly-appointed Provincial-Elect for the GBR Province supported the rest of the directors with his perfectly synced box-steps to Billy Joel‟s “Brown-Eyed Girl”. Needless to say, the team were delighted with Martin‟s efforts and will not let him escape from a retreat disco ever again!

Both the volunteers and directors returned to their centres on Monday afternoon a little tired after a busy yet fun-filled weekend, but excited at the prospect of working with young people again after the long Christmas break. But, as for the Savio House team, it’s back up to Bollington to play in the snow and to quickly upload the video of Jess and Martin dancing onto YouTube!

Friday, 11 December 2009 11:59

Festival Sanctus

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sam-bThis summer, a week after I left the Savio House retreat team, I headed down south and arrived at the Sion Community‘s base in Brentwood, Essex to pitch my tent in their garden and join a hundred or so others for ―Festival Sanctus‖; a week of worship, teaching, food, prayer, small group discussions and of course some silly games and entertainment. The campers were mainly young people who have met the Sion youth ministry team during the year at one of their school missions throughout the Country, but there were a few, myself included, who have met Sion through other means and have become regulars at Festival Sanctus (or Sion summer camp as it was previously known).

One of the great things about the way Sion works is that they encourage young people to take an active role in Festival Sanctus. Many of the people working on the Festival Sanctus team are people who, like me, have been participants before and have been offered the chance to take on a responsibility this time. It makes the distinction between team and participants a lot less obvious and makes the atmosphere on site really friendly and relaxed, with the team getting involved with everything just as much as everyone else.

I arrived a day early this year as I was due to be one of the two MCs – a bizarre role that I also took on last year. Bizarre because you have to be the ―face of Festival Sanctus‖ whilst, in my case, not being a member of the Sion youth team. So I had to tell everyone what was going on when I was aware that loads of people in the marquee knew a lot more than I did. Being MC was also a great deal of fun though. Apart from doing all the announcing, it was mine and Emily‘s (my co-MC‘s) job to provide a little comic relief at the start of each day. At the beginning of the week this included portraying the rules of the camp through a musical style of their choice. (I was horrified when I heard the word ‘slipknot’ being shouted out when it was my turn!)

One of the great things about the way Sion works is that they encourage young people to take an active role in Festival Sanctus. Many of the people working on the Festival Sanctus team are people who, like me, have been participants before and have been offered the chance to take on a responsibility this time. It makes the distinction between team and participants a lot less obvious and makes the atmosphere on site really friendly and relaxed, with the team getting involved with everything just as much as everyone else.

This year, as well as asking me to MC, they presented me with the job of doing one of the talks at the beginning of the day. In previous years, the speakers have always seemed much older and wiser than me – some of them being regular speakers at national conferences. So I did feel a little overwhelmed and under qualified to say the least. But it was a challenge and an experience that I wasn‘t going to miss out on.

The theme of the week was ―Shine‖ and after four days of input based around pieces of scripture about light, it was my turn to send them out on  the last day with my talk based on Matthew 5:14-16, ―You are the light of the world…‖ Writing the talk was a humbling experience because I realised how much I myself needed to hear the message that I put across;  being the light of the world is a big task that Jesus challenges us with. Before the talk, the day‘s program always started with ‘praise breakfast’, possibly one of the best ideas behind Festival Sanctus. At 9am we crawled into the marquee and queued up for toast and cereal. Soon after, some comedy clips from ‘youtube’ arrived on the big screen while everyone sat on the carpeted floor munching on their toast. And then, after we‘d all woken up a bit and half way through our breakfast, the band got behind their instruments and began to lead us in songs of praise and worship while we were free to carry on eating, sing along, sit on the floor listening or jump up and down if we so wished. It‘s a casual, free and unceremonious approach to prayer that really appeals to me. It dispels some of the ideas that charismatic styles of worship are scary or weird. We were just Christians gathered in a marquee, eating breakfast and praising God, why not?

The rest of the day included some personal prayer time, where we were given an array of different forms of prayer to try, small groups, mass in the marquee with some new lively music and plenty of entertainment in the evenings, starring Steve the gospel juggler (you heard right) a ceilidh band and ultimately the raw talent of Festival Sanctus itself at the open mic night.

In some ways Festival Sanctus (and I can only assume therefore also the rest of Sion youth ministry) is quite different from the Salesian styles of youth work that I‘ve experienced. Sion‘s spirituality is deeply rooted in its identity in the Charismatic renewal, and I‘ve yet to come across an overlap of Salesian and Charismatic traditions. In that sense, I suppose the Christian tradition that they are inviting young people to share in is slightly different. Also it seems that Sion invite young people (sometimes quite directly) into a real, adult relationship with Jesus. Sometimes this is just by being explicit about their own faith; something which I think comes more naturally in a charismatic setting.

On the other hand, I think there are some things that they could learn from the Salesian way of working. Salesians should be truly proud of the Salesian welcome. In my opinion ‘welcome’ is one of the most important parts of youth work. So much hangs on that first encounter and the Salesians seem to do what is necessary to make people feel comfortable and at home. At least, that‘s my experience on the giving and receiving ends of Salesian youth work. At the end of Festival Sanctus many young people went home having had a lot of fun, having met God in a new way and found themselves part of a network of Christians who are alive in their faith. I‘m sure many of them will be back in 2010.

Friday, 11 December 2009 11:59

Groot Bijgaarden, Belgium

Written by

youth-for-human-rightsOn the weekend 15th – 18th October, four British volunteers attended the DBYN ‘You(th) for Human Rights Congress’ in Groot-Bijgaarden, Belgium. Rachel Cortes and Simon Treacy represented BOVA while DBYN UK was represented by Emma Stringer and Chris Knowles.

The Congress was an opportunity to bring together around 50 young people active in Salesian organisations across 12 European countries. Once we had successfully navigated their way to the host Oasecentrum, everyone gathered on the Thursday evening and got to know the other participants.

The following day, the Congress proper was kicked off in imitable style with some inspirational words by Don Fabio followed by a talk by the DBYN President, Fr Bob, on the importance of safeguarding. Then we all took part in a few activities designed to inspire a deeper understanding of the concept of human rights. To top it all, the day concluded with a human rights themed tour of Brussels and a traditional Belgian dish of moules frites. On the Saturday, there was a quiz to test our knowledge of the other organisations represented at the weekend. We were then challenged to incorporate our ideas on human rights that we had developed and take them into our day-to-day work with young people.

Of course, the weekend had its fair share of social events and fun activities, through which we learned how to cook traditional Belgian food and make human rights-related badges, the importance of punctuality and why you should never run behind a moving vehicle. The weekend was a fantastic opportunity to be part of a meeting of other young people involved in Salesian projects across Europe. It was invaluable to get to share ideas and be inspired by the everyone’s varied experiences.

Overall, the weekend was superbly organised by our Belgian hosts and was very enjoyable. We hope to follow up the inspiration by continuing to raise human rights awareness through our respective roles with BOVA and DBYN UK.

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