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Advocate – Serve – Accompany: Refugee Week

Sr Angela Murphy reflects on her ministry at the Jesuit Refugee Day Centre in Wapping. The Centre aims to provide a safe and welcoming space where a personal welcome and appreciation of each person is a priority. Refugee Week, celebrated from 18-24 June was marked by several special events.

“The past week has been a special one for Staff, Refugees and Volunteers at the Centre. It has given our refugee friends a chance to speak out and celebrate the many gifts they have to contribute to society. During the week they showed their appreciation at some events to celebrate Refugee Week and we went along to support them.

Wallace Museum: The Wallace Museum has one of the finest collections of French Art in Europe. The museum supports people who are refugees by training them to become Community Ambassador Tour Guides. Some of our friends from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) have become Guides. We availed of the expertise of our friends when we visited the museum. Each talk was given by a different member of the Community Ambassador Team from JRS. It was interesting to see through the eyes of the Guides the objects collected by Sir. Richard Wallace and to experience first-hand the contribution our friends are making to their new home.

Heythrop Conference: Refugee Stories, Changing the Narrative: This conference was a collaboration between Heythrop College and the Jesuit Refugee Service. It is a response to one of the aims of Refugee Week, “to spread the word and reshape the conversation.”
During the Conference three of our friends were given a slot called, Refugee stories: Changing the Narrative. We were delighted to hear Josie who stole the show, some were moved to tears as she shared her experiences.

JRS Gospel Choir: The Joy of the Gospel: A Gospel Choir Workshop. Following their huge debut success at Christmas, the JRS Refugee choir were back raising their voices and spirits on Saturday when we came together to sing, to learn and to share food. The Refugee Gospel Choir is one of the many activities JRS facilitates alongside the Day Centre. One of the choir members said “The first time I preformed I was nervous. I’m a good singer but not very confident. Before I would never put myself forward but now if there is a solo I will volunteer to give it a try. The choir has helped me a lot”. It provides a respite from the often uncertain lives of our refugee friends.

A visit to the British Red Cross: Some of our friends also attend the centre run by the British Red Cross. They had open house last Wednesday so a few of us paid a visit. We received a big welcome. Then we enjoyed looking at the art on display there created by our friends which was very interesting and colourful and which often told their stories.
The chef was busy preparing food and carving (yes, carving!) fruit; his display was wonderful, so creative. The women’s choir sang for us. When the food was ready we were invited to go outside into the sunshine where the food was served. A great day was had by all.

It has been a brilliant week which brought us together in a different way and hopefully has helped to change the narrative.

Celebrating Mary Aikenhead

There was great excitement here at St. Joseph’s Convent in Hackney on 6th June because we were celebrating the fact that Mary Aikenhead started her journey in giving her whole life to God in Religious Life. She was aged twenty-five when she joined the group entitled ‘The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ known more widely as ‘The Bar Convent’ because of its proximity to Micklegate Bar in York. The year was 1812. Her friend Catherine Walsh accompanied her.

We had planned how we might celebrate this important event the week before at our community meeting. We decided on having a barbecue in our courtyard which is beautifully laid out with raised flower beds and slender trees such as the gracious Silver Birch. Everyone in the house was to be invited including the staff.

The person who cooks for us rose to the challenge while Sr Angela oversaw the myriad of practical jobs that needed to be attended to in the garden, setting up of tables and chairs, positioning of umbrellas, distribution of crockery, cutlery etc, etc. All members of the community took part willingly in the preparations and there was a real sense of teamwork. Everything was prepared quickly and without fuss.

We need not have worried about the weather. It was a glorious day, nearly too hot. Some of the older sisters were protected from the strong sun by colourful sunshades. The main table was laden with food tastefully set out. It was a real work of art to see, satisfying even to the sight not to mention the palate. There was food to suit everyone’s taste from chicken legs to burgers, to spare-ribs. A great variety of vegetables accompanied this comprising colourful salad dishes with vibrant red beetroot juxtaposed with bright green lettuce and yellow peppers. Of course, we could not have a balanced meal without the humble potato which was of the
small, new variety.

Each dish was accompanied with its appropriate sauce. It was all so pleasing to look at. No wonder everyone was happy including the staff who comprised carers and support staff. About twenty people celebrated altogether. No doubt Mary Aikenhead would have approved of our big get together which was a most enjoyable day for all, sisters and staff alike. In the evening we joined with all our sisters throughout the world as we recited the Evening Prayer together, the form of which had been devised by Sr. Brigid Kelly. Our final hymn and prayer of the day was most appropriate: ‘We Glorify the Lord by our Lives’. We pray that we may continue to do so.

Mother Mary Aikenhead pray for us!

Plant Flowers – Root Out Slavery

As we grow in our understanding of the nature and scope of human trafficking we become more aware of its different aspects and are in a better position to challenge it on its various fronts. One aspect that is being better understood is the supply chains companies use for production of their goods. Most products have several aspects of production involving materials which may come from different parts and are gathered or made by people, these then become parts which are produced by more people and finally put together by yet more people (imagine a garment or a car). The people that are engaged to work in production are often grossly underpaid or not paid at all. We call this slave labour. So, looking at supply chains and ensuring that they are slave-free is both a necessary and extremely complex process, even for companies themselves as their supply often comes from countries far away such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, etc.

‘Plant Flowers, Root Out Slavery’ is a campaign which has been running since the beginning of June. It found practical expression when, during the famous annual Chelsea Flower Show, several people campaigned outside the flower show to raise awareness among those attending that the principle sponsors of the show M&G Investments, are major shareholders in a company which is being challenged for its use of slave labour. People interviewed were surprised that this company was at once accepting the fruits of slave labour while at the same time sponsoring such a wonderful event.

Since the Modern Slavery Bill was passed in 2015 the UK Government has worked hard to comprehend and address the crime of modern slavery. One of the ways that it is doing this is by making UK companies accountable for their supply chains. 10,000 of the top companies, initially, are being required to state publicly that their supply chains are slave free. So far only 3000 have responded but this is a legally binding requirement which the others will have to respond to eventually. One only hopes that the delay in their response is due to them ensuring that the supply chains are slave free or that they are taking steps to rectify any inconsistency.

This is a time too when we might ask ourselves about the supply chain to our wardrobe or our fridge. A good way to start would be to look at the labels on our clothes, where were they made? Is it possible that my top which was made in Bangladesh was contributed to on its journey to completion by persons who were enslaved? It is time we all became involved in challenging companies who endorse or collude with slave labour.
Patricia Byrne rsc

Logo and pictures by kind permission of Freedom United

Help stop profits from slavery in Eritrea

The Royal Wedding and the Hackney Hospice Connection

Our chapel in St Joseph’s Convent, Hackney has been graced by a very special bunch of flowers. The flowers were delivered on 20th May to St Joseph’s Hospice from St George’s chapel in Windsor Castle where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) were married the day before. Each patient was presented with a bouquet of flowers specially prepared for them by the Castle staff and there were some also for the Hospice chapel and for the convent.

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan was an amazing event. As Harry is 6th in line to the throne now the Wedding took place in the quietness of St George’s Chapel and not at Westminster Abbey where the wedding of a more senior royal would occur. Although I say ‘quiet’ it was anything but quiet, it was a national event which was watched by nearly 14 million people in the UK and by over a billion worldwide. It was celebrated with street parties all over the country and thousands lined the streets around Windsor Castle in the hope of getting a glimpse of the couple. The wedding day was blessed with perfect weather.

This wedding had a character of its own. The bride did not have adult attendants, but children acted as bridesmaids. The six bridesmaids were between the ages of 2 and 7! And they carried off their duties wonderfully. In all there were 10 bridesmaids and pageboys following Meghan down the aisle. Another characteristic of this wedding was the gospel choir which sang ‘Stand by me’ this and other elements in the service, the sermon by an American Episcopalian bishop, for example honored Meghan’s African American heritage.

Prince Harry is very popular in the country and the nation seems to have taken his bride to its heart. Meghan has brought a freshness and vitality to the Royal family. She has been described as having a keen awareness of social issues and is especially interested in women’s’ issues. Harry also is socially minded and together they promise to be a great force for good on the world stage.

Here at St Joseph’s Convent the sisters gathered in a party spirit and surrounded by bunting and flags to watch the wedding and all that went before and after. They described the experience as ‘wonderful’. Receiving the flowers the following day was icing on the cake because they provided a very tangible connection to this marvelous event.

Life at grass roots

Carolyne is a member of staff at St Joseph’s Hospice and a friend of the community. She is also a photographer who has a passion for photographing mini creatures. She goes to great lengths to catch them at their best, going out very early in the morning and lying on the grass for long periods of time, to name but a few of her tactics. She has kindly agreed to share some of her images with us. You can tell from her descriptions how lovingly she observes and records these marvelous creatures.

“When I was a young child my dad taught me all the names of the birds and their song. When the Blackbird sings its evening song, my dad is there with me. Similarly my mum used to let me run free in the garden where I would check under each stone to see what creature was living there. These happy days were the foundation for my love of nature especially nature that is often hidden from sight, the creatures of the grass and leaves.
Being able to photograph the natural world brings me great joy especially when the stresses and strains of life seem overpowering. I began taking photographs later in life quite by accident when a friend inspired me through her work and creativity. I always carry a camera when out walking and spend most of my free time out in the local park or the wider countryside.

In my day job I work in a hospice which is a privilege and being a nature photographer has allowed me to bring the outside world in to my patients who very often can no longer go out. I am often asked to bring my pictures in for the patients to see and enjoy. To be able to bring God’s wonderful creation into their lives has given my work greater meaning.

Getting up before sunrise is the best time of the day to capture the magic. To be alone out in the field or forest with only the morning mist, the birds and insects for company is bliss. It is at this time that most creatures of the grass are still asleep and still which makes it easier to take their photos. My favourite creatures are Damselflies, Dragonflies and Ladybirds. They captivate me every time I see them. I could watch them for hours. Here are some of the photographs that I have taken whilst on my travels. I hope that you enjoy them.”
Carolyne Barber 2018

Visit to Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre by Staff of St Andrew’s Hospice, Airdrie

Another Team Building Day to the Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre, Dublin, was organised by Sr. Catherine Egan on the 28th November 2017. This follows a series of such days built up over the past number of years. It is one of the highlights in the year for Staff from all departments – Nursing, Catering, Fund Raising, Reception, Household and on other occasions Medical staff.

The day began with an early flight from Glasgow by Ryanair.

There was a warm welcome from Sr.Mary Roche at Harold’s Cross Heritage Centre. Following a cuppa Mary proceeded to introduce the staff to the history of the Congregation.

The audio-visual story of Mary Aikenhead from her childhood to her last days in Harold’s Cross made a deep impression on everybody. As almost all the staff were themselves Scottish born they were delighted to follow the history. This was followed by a visit to Mary’s own rooms where she lived, worked, prayed and planned for the Congregation.

Following lunch in the restaurant the group requested a visit to the new Palliative Unit. The staff from St Andrew’s were delighted to be shown around as they are in the process of doing likewise in Airdrie. On the way through this new unit the group met a Volunteer who was very familiar with the many corridors in Palliative Care and kindly led them through. This volunteer managed to bring them into a bedroom (whose occupant was taking a walk on the corridor) and explained how all the new equipment works. He also told how Prince Charles had visited Palliative Care last summer whilst on one of his private visits when in Ireland.

The Staff were enthralled by the experience and it was a great opportunity for them – away from their own environment and particular work – to meet with colleagues from other departments of St Andrew’s hospice.

All were so grateful for a wonderful day in Dublin organised for them by Sisters Mary Roche and Catherine Egan. As one of those who made the visit, (Andrew Flynn – Schools and Colleges Co-Ordinator) said:

“The trip to the Heritage Centre was an amazing experience and it gave us all an insight into the history of the Sisters of Charity and how our own Hospice came to be. It is quite humbling to be part of something that started 200 years ago when Mary Aikenhead and a few like-minded people created something that at the time was to help the poor of Dublin and has evolved to help countless people all over the world. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to make us all feel welcome and to give us a truly unique experience”.

Mary Aikenhead, the Cardinal and the Heritage Space

Cardinal Vincent Nichols came to St Joseph’s Hospice to celebrate Mass in honour of Mother Mary Aikenhead and to bless the new Heritage Space which had been created in the Reception area of the Hospice.

The celebration of Mass at which Cardinal Nichols presided was informal. The informality was especially noticeable in his homily which he delivered standing almost amongst the congregation. He spoke without notes and without hesitation as he told of the effect that the gospel account of the parable Lazarus and Dives had on the young Mary Aikenhead. It is thanks to the gift of the grace God gave to Mary Aikenhead then that we are here today for without the gospel and Mary Aikenhead there would be no hospice. He went on to say that we cannot separate the past, present and future. We are in a living stream that flows onwards. If Mary Aikenhead was here today she would insist upon the same openness which, for the past 113 years the hospice has shown in welcoming everyone. It is in the spirit of Mary Aikenhead that it is need alone that is the criterion for admission to the hospice.
The Cardinal concluded by saying that Mary Aikenhead had two basic convictions, the dignity of every human person and a special love for the poor. And so, he said, we give thanks to God and pray that this spirit will be kept alive and we ask God to bless this special place day by day”.

In the spirit of informality which continued, at the end of the Mass Cardinal Nichols received from Fr Peter, the hospice chaplain, a Hospice bag containing a host of hospice paraphernalia, a hospice pen, pencil, lanyard, mug etc. Fr Peter suggested to the Cardinal that when he goes to important meetings he should replace the lanyard he’s given with the one from the hospice.

After a photograph had been taken in the chapel of the Cardinal and the Sisters of Charity present everyone was invited to attend the blessing of the Heritage Space. And so a large number of people followed the Cardinal down to the Reception area where the blessing was to take place. While we stood and waited for the blessing to conclude and formal photographs to be taken it was clear that many of the attendees were anxious to get a closer look at the detail of the Heritage Space which contained the photographs of well-loved faces. Then before moving upstairs to the Education Centre to partake of a scrumptious buffet laid out to celebrate this important event, many took the opportunity to stand and look and point and discuss the content of the Space.

This Heritage Space records the Congregation’s presence in the hospice from the beginning and the values which underpin everything that is done in St Joseph’s, and the contribution which others have made towards the up – building of the hospice and hospice care over more than a century.

Remembering a Loved Teacher

Mass for Sr. Mary Murphy RSC. R.I.P.
On Monday 6th November 2017, 32 past pupils of St. Winifred’s School, gathered in St. Werburgh’s Church Birkenhead, for midday Mass to celebrate the life of Sister Mary Murphy R.I.P. who had been their Headmistress for many years. They had wanted to remember and give thanks for Sr. Mary who had died last May. Canon Hoban who had been the School Chaplain in Sr. Mary’s time, celebrated the Mass and spoke of the memories he had of Sister. He said that she had contributed greatly to education in Birkenhead. The music was provided by Fr. Ray Burke, Parish Priest, who is a gifted musician.
Two of the pupils had come to the Convent the previous week and put together a short Tribute, and some Prayers of Intercession.
One of the past pupils read a tribute and another did the Prayers of Intercession.

In the Tribute they said:
“Today we are gathered to give thanks for the years Sister Mary spent here in Birkenhead, as Headmistress of St. Winifred’s Girls School, Prenton. We, who are past pupils, all have different memories of our time at St. Winifred’s, and we will have an opportunity to share these later in the Hall over a cup of tea. Also on the Staff at that time were Sister Agnes and Sister Monica both also deceased R.I.P”

As well as other Parishioners, Sr. Frances and Sr. Teresa, Sr. Mary Brennan and Sr. Brigid were present.
After Mass refreshments were served in the adjoining Parish Hall, all of which had been prepared by three of the past pupils. It was a time of great re-unions. Leaflets of Venerable Mary Aikenhead were distributed to all so the Charism of the Religious Sisters of Charity continues to spread.

The photo below is of those who prepared the food and the Hall

A Reunion

Between 1951 and 1961, 500,000 Irish people emigrated to the UK. The challenges that faced many of the immigrants gave rise to a network of support which came about largely through the initiative of the Oblate Fathers. They set up Welfare Centres in some of the major cites and Sisters in the Province worked with them.

One such place was the IWIC (Irish Welfare and Information Centre) in Birmingham where Sr Teresa Harmon worked alongside Fr Joe Taaffe in serving the Irish community. Earlier Sr Carmel McGowan and Sr Anne Carmel worked with the Irish Community. Out of these initiatives came others and one of these was the Family Housing Association in Birmingham. Among their works was a hostel for homeless Irish men. This closed later due to there being no longer a need and was used by the Family Housing Association for other purposes. The Irish Welfare still occupied some of the building too as accommodation for the Director of Plunket House and staff offices.

Having the Family Housing Association on the premises was a great help as at that time (early 80s) many families were coming to Birmingham from the North of Ireland to escape the Troubles there and needed accommodation. Mr Erik Pearce was the Director of FHA and arranged flats when requested by Irish Welfare.

The Salvation Army Hostel was opposite Plunket House and when a flat became available we were able to furnish it from the Salvation Army. It was a great example of cooperation.

Sr Teresa Harmon writes: “After all these years it was a pleasant surprise to receive from Mr Pearce an invitation to a Reunion in November of this year to be held in the Grimshaw Rooms, Saint Chad’s R C Cathedral, Birmingham to take place on the 18th. Sister Mary Teresa and I travelled by train to New Street the main Birmingham Station which has become part of the famous Bull Ring and to me an even bigger surprise was to find trams outside the station which would take us to Saint Chad’s. It certainly was a comfortable way to avoid the city centre and on arriving at the Grimshaw Rooms we were met and warmly welcomed by Mr Pearce. The Archbishop of Birmingham, Most Reverend Bernard Longley joined the group for an opening prayer and welcome after which there was a shared table as everyone attending was asked to bring something for lunch. As we shared lunch, enjoying a wide variety of savouries and desserts we chatted about ‘old times’. It was nearly thirty years since I left Birmingham so I found it greatly changed place but very enjoyable to be back. It was a pleasant afternoon.”

An Advent Prayer from Prison & A Prisoner’s Thoughts at Christmas

An Advent Prayer from Prison

I pray for the world and its people
That people will live in peace everywhere.
I pray for my family and friends
That they may remain happy and safe.
My prayer is also for my enemies
That they may understand me and forgive.
I pray for the Catholic Church
For our Pope and all in ministry.
My prayers are for all those in pain and also
I remember the homeless, the poor and old.
May they all benefit from this time of Advent.
My prayers also include all those who are without loved ones
this year, that they will be comforted
In the knowledge that the Lord looks after our departed.

Whilst we wait for the Birth of Our Lord,
We pray for forgiveness.
May our lives be touched and made better in this Advent and let the
joy of the Birth of Christ overshadow all sadness.

May we all rejoice in the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ
And the hope he brings to all. AMEN!

A Prisoner’s Thoughts at Christmas

Christmas is a time for new beginnings brought about by the birth of our Blessed Lord. It is a time for us to reflect on the year past and to look back on what we have or have not done in our lives. Could we have done some things better? Can we put things right? Should we have done some things at all?

Christmas is a time for forgiveness and mercy, to show others that we care and to show love to each other.
We are separated from our families and friends at a time that is devoted to family unity. Just as the birth of Jesus created the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph so Christmas is a time when families come together and the whole world feels united.

Do not be sad this Christmastide, but rejoice in the knowledge that we are closer to our families than at any other time, we are with them spiritually through our faith. They will feel our presence over the Christmas period and that will be stronger than at any other time.

As at Christmas we are all bound together by our Catholic Faith, let us all look to the coming year with great hope and joy.
Rejoice, the Lord is coming
Our sins are washed away,
Our Lives renewed! AMEN!
By kind permission.