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Wednesday, 10 April 2019 01:04

Lent reflection - The parish is led to Passiontide

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In the penultimate week of Lent, the Rector Major considers the heart of the Salesian spirit, in the rich network of relationships we form in our lives, and Fr Graham Forristalle looks at holiness in a parish preparing for the holiest time of the year.


Each Lenten Friday evening in Cowley, the people of the parish gather in the church for 6pm. Altar servers have come to join us, and together we follow the Way of the Cross. In the fourteen stations the family of the parish meditate on Jesus who suffered and gave his life for us all. This family has members from Latvia, from Malawi, from Goa, East Timor and Poland: from Brittany and from all parts of Europe. We are praying in English: whether this is our first or second language we acclaim the one saviour, and the image and pattern of his sacrifice is our pattern of holiness. In one scripture during the Stations, we read about the paradox within Jesus’ sacrifice. “For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21



As part of the parish’s celebration for our 125th anniversary of the consecration of Sacred Heart Church, we are holding a series of lectures in honour of a much loved priest of the community, Fr Pat McGrath Sdb. The opening lecture in January looked at the history of Christianity in Battersea from the first Christian settlement to the re-founding of the Catholic Mission at Battersea Park in 1860. The present Parish Team Leader, Gerry O’Shaughnessy and the local Anglican Vicar, Rev Simon Butler led that session



140 years ago this week, the first Salesian Sisters' missionary expedition set out from the port of Genoa, Italy. Here's how the Sisters marked the occasion in Genoa.


On November 14, 2017, the provincial community and the directors of the Province of “ Madonna del Buon Consiglio” of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) met before the ancient port of Genoa on a barge near the famous Aquarium to commemorate a historical date: November 14, 1877, the day that led the FMA beyond the borders of Europe, transposing the charism of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello to the Americas.

Thursday, 08 September 2016 15:46

BOVA: English Camp in Ho Chi Minh City

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BOVA Vietnam summer camp500

Teacher James Fisher writes about his first weeks as a BOVA volunteer in Vietnam.

I had been looking forward to travelling to Vietnam and working with the Salesians and was very excited if not a little tired as the plane touched down in Ho Chi Minh City at 9 0clock Vietnam time on Wednesday 3rd of August 2016. As arranged there was a gentleman waiting for me with transport to take me to my placement, or so I thought. He handed me his phone and I was welcomed via the phone to Vietnam by Father Vincent who said he would see me soon. My Vietnamese driver ensured I was comfortable and off we went making our way slowly and sometimes dangerously through the thousands of motorbikes which clog the roads of Ho Chi Minh City. I had no idea where he was taking me and he could not speak English but I was slightly assured when I saw the statue of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph looming large on the dashboard.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the entrance of a large house which for some unknown reason had been built in the middle of what I can only describe as an industrial estate. An exuberant Father Vincent was there to meet me with the words "Welcome to Vietnam and welcome to English camp." English camp had not been in my plans, I did not know what it was and I certainly did not like the idea of camping out in Vietnam with no air conditioning not to mention all the dangerous creepy crawly things that might be lurking or even slithering around. My fears were soon distant memories when over a bowl of finest home-made Pho Father Vincent explained to me what English Camp was.

English camp is two weeks of residential intensive English tuition, spiritual readings, talks, mass, rosary, singing, performing and sport. It was forbidden to speak or even think in Vietnamese. The students, and there were fifty of them, were all aspirants for the Salesian priesthood or brotherhood. In short the English camp was as much about spirituality as it was about learning English. It was clear from the start all the students had some experience of the demands of English camp and the spiritual life. I have been used to working as a teacher in England where many of the students were disengaged in education or paid lip service to it so it was a pleasant culture shock to work with a group who were highly motivated, totally obedient and very eager to please.

Another shock for me was that prayers and readings started at 5.30 am. I really found it a struggle to get myself presentable at that time of the morning and yet the fifty students were always in their seats before 5.30am and all were immaculately turned out, usually in smart dark trousers and white shirts. So we had readings until 6 o’ clock and that was followed by mass. At 6.30 am it was breakfast time. It took me a time to get used to having noodles and meat dishes for breakfast but there was also lots of fruit, vegetables and yoghurts. Unfortunately, no English tea and certainly no toast with lashings of butter. The students took it in turns to do readings of their choice from the bible before and after breakfast. Then it was clean up time which the students did without question. This was followed by animation which is basically indoor games. The students had all been allocated to teams and most activities turned out to be very competitive.

English lessons started at 8.30am and each teacher had a class of 10 /12 students. The students had been allocated to classes based on their levels of English. I took an intermediate class but most pupils in the group were somewhere between basic and intermediate. The students were very keen to please in lessons and were very keen to do well in English. There were three formal lessons of English each day and these were broken up by hymn practice, readings and of course lunch which was usually pork, chicken or fish with rice, noodles and Vietnam soup. After lunch all the students took advantage of siesta when they went to bed for an hour. Instead of siesta I retired to a local café for a good fix of caffeine in the form of a café sua da which is iced coffee with lots of condensed milk. After another bout of animation, a formal English class, readings practice and an hour of sport (always football) it was soon time for dinner which was always an excellent meal with a good choice of home cooked Vietnamese dishes . To finish of the day the rosary was said while walking outside or in, and the day was completed with a short talk from one of the volunteers on the camp. The pupils had an opportunity to watch an English movie before going to bed. Everyone was usually in bed by 9.30pm.

Although it was not in my plans I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks. The two priests Father Vincent and Father Tamr were fantastic to work for as were the other volunteers and I doubt I shall ever encounter a better motivated, more mannerly and obedient set of students anywhere. The food I can only describe as glorious and akin to what you would expect in a top restaurant. I am now taking it easy at the Provincial House in Ho Chi Minh City, doing some one to one work with brothers and priests and awaiting the return of the pre novitiate students I will be teaching English to for the next twelve months in another part of the city. The students, brothers and priests, like all the Vietnamese people I have encountered, have all been very supportive, caring and generous.

English camp is a lovely way to spend two weeks but it is very tiring. The early rises can be a burden if you are not used to them. The students will use every opportunity they can to speak English to you and will want you to speak back to them. It does not matter what you are doing and there is no escaping it. It is very positive but it can be quite draining. The students throw themselves body and soul into the religious and spiritual aspect of the camp. I did the same in that I attended all the readings, rosaries, masses etc but it was clear from the start of the camp that the spiritual aspect of the camp was optional for the volunteers and there was at least one who opted out.

I believe that there are two English camps in Vietnam each summer. The first is in Dalat in July and is three weeks long. The second is in Ho Chi Minh City at the beginning of August and lasts for two weeks. Some volunteers did both camps. If you have a long summer break and maybe can't commit to a longer volunteer placement or you are not sure, then this could be the experience for you. Be aware that if you come to volunteer in Vietnam you will be working with young adults who are somewhere in the process of becoming priests or brothers. The Salesians do not have any schools in Vietnam.

Just ensure you come with an open mind, an open heart and be prepared to be flexible and to work hard.

James is a teacher by profession and is currently one month into his 12 month placement with the Salesians in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We hope to be able to share more stories from his experience and our other volunteers currently overseas. If you know of anyone who is interested in short or long term volunteering with the Salesians overseas please contact us:

Friday, 24 June 2016 13:47

Learning to be Salesian in India

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Savio Retreat Team member, Kazzie Whitehead, writes about her experience in India with BOVA

A friend in my parish told me about someone who had volunteered with BOVA and went oversea to India, and that’s where I’ve always wanted to go, given that it’s my birth place. I got in touch with BOVA, and started all the necessary training. Then I got the confirmation… I was going to India for a year. A whole year, on my own. I was nervous, scared, excited and so many thoughts were rushing through my mind.

Nedungalum in Pillathimum in Tamil Nadu

My first placement was a boarding school for young boys and girls from year three up to year six. Also there was a boarding house for girls from year seven up to year eleven. My role was to teach them English, but also to be an assistance to the teachers in the school. It really was eye opening for me, to see how the young children intently listen and are so enamoured with their education. The children were so lovely, warm and welcoming and I instantly felt at home and they made it so easy for me to teach them. They were so curious about my life back in England and as to how I live my life. Things in England that may be deemed as ‘normal’, such as a flush for the toilet and electricity seemed almost non-existent. That did take a while getting used to, but it was all part of the transition. I was there for around three and a half months then I moved to another placement.


Nivillrapatti in Salem
My next placement was in a Don Bosco care home for young boys from ages 8-18 who are living with HIV and AIDS. When I was notified that I will be joining the care home, I was nervous, excited but also saddened in a way. To hear such young boys, be met with heart breaking circumstances I didn’t know how I would react when I would meet them. That all changed once I arrived, I picked up the boys from school alongside Fr. Daniel and I couldn’t have felt more in place. The boys welcomed me, so affectionately and they were curious about who I was, where I was from and if I wanted to play games with them! My role was to assist them during the day such as farming and agriculture with the boys who didn’t attend school and the boys who arrived from school, I would play games with them, help with homework and have tea and night prayer. I felt a part of their community almost instantly and when it was time to leave, after 8 months of placement, I felt so saddened as those boys felt like my little brothers and I got to know each and every one of them, and their lives. Before my experience of India, I never really knew what being a Salesian meant. I didn’t know that priest, brothers, sisters, could work alongside young people in such a way that doesn’t feel forced or formal. But in fact, they were just following the footsteps of Don Bosco and his way of teaching. While I had so, so many great memories, there have been some times where I’ve, not necessarily had a bad day, but just a day where I reflected and I think it really did help note it all down in a diary. Also to look back on my feelings, thoughts and my growth as a person but also how I grew in my faith.

My experience in India? It was eye opening, fun, full of love and laughter, tears (from the children and me)! I learnt what it truly means to be a Salesian and to carry out the work of Don Bosco. I will forever hold those memories, and every young person that I’ve met along the way


Kazzie Whitehead


Learn more about BOVA and how you can get involved

Wednesday, 03 December 2014 17:18

World Aids Day

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BOVA volunteers will mark World Aids Day today by attending a special Mass, where they will remember all those affected by HIV/AIDS, and support them through their prayers.

Karuna, aged 19 years, spent a year volunteering in the Tiruchy Province in India from September 2013. She spent nine of those months working with boys affected by this disease in Salem - and below she shares some of her reflections from that time.

Karuna in Salem

Before I did my overseas voluntary work in India in the rural area of Salem, Tamilnadu, I admit that I was very ignorant in knowing what AIDS actually is, and how it is passed on. But I was also very curious to learn more about AIDS and how people living with the condition go about their day to day lives. I had only ever heard the negative stigma and stereotypes that comes with it - such as the only people who could have it was people in developing countries and homosexuals, which I learnt through the stories from our mass media.

The community in Salem was astoundingly beautiful, full of agriculture and tranquil. The fathers and brothers were caring, cheerful and kind. The aim of the community was to instil positivity, hope and courage to those living with HIV/AIDS, and to help with building their lives outside the care home, such as finding employment, college degrees and homes. Activities varied from sports day, dance/acting competitions and creative workshops to engaging in agricultural work and lots of games!

What I learnt most about HIV/AIDS from my time in the community in Salem, was not only the physical side of AIDS, but also the mental and emotional side. I learnt just how a positive attitude can change someone's perception on life, and the way they live. To instil a positive attitude is vital for the child living with AIDS because they face a number of hospital visits, bouts of sickness, and also the stigma that comes with this disease. The families are affected too, in a way that they wouldn't want to be near the children in case they could "catch it", which stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the disease, which then leads to abandonment and neglect. This leaves the children feeling vulnerable, with low self-esteem and confused. Therefore positive vibes and words of encouragement and hope are vital for the children living with HIV/AIDS whether it is mentally, emotionally or physically.

It was eye opening just how much I learnt from my time at the Don Bosco Care Home. I now understand what AIDS is and how it can affect children and families, and the negative stigma is long gone, for me. But I feel what we can do to help address the issues, would be to eliminate the negative stigma and raise awareness and educate people on the effect AIDS can have.

Thursday, 09 October 2014 11:40

Michael in the Philippines

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There are several volunteers overseas at the moment with BOVA. A few weeks ago, we shared stories of Annie who is in Tanzania. 

This week we're looking further east at the Philippines where we have Michael Thompson. He has been over in the Philippines for about two months now.

Here is a little blog post about his activities:

It has been a little over a month now since I lifted off the tarmac at Heathrow Airport feeling a combination of excitement and trepidation for what was to come. In that time I have begun to begin to learn a new way of life and settle into a routine here in the Philippines.

My tasks here are twofold, put simply: I teach maths and I play the keyboard.



Planning my lessons... or playing on Sporcle?

Friday, 15 August 2014 16:59

Annie in Tanzania (Part 1)

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Bosco Volunteer Action (BOVA) is the overseas volunteering organisation of the Salesians of Don Bosco in the UK, a Catholic Religious order. It offers placements for adults to learn through action, serving the young and the poor while living and working alongside Salesian communities around the world.


We currently have Annie over in Tanzania, currently volunteering with the Salesian Sisters. She has been over there for 6 weeks so far and has 6 weeks still to go. 

She has written about her first 6 weeks over in Tanzania.


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