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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reflects on past and present events

Sr Brigid Kelly shares how the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was celebrated in her parish in Bebington in the NW of England. She explains how the focus of the week reflected on past and present events.

In the Bebington area of Wirral we have a strong active group of about 10 Christian Churches – Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Methodist and United Reformed. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each Church hosts one of the Days of Prayer and this year it so happened that St. Luke’s R.C Church was hosting on 19th January, the birthday of Mary Aikenhead. Material for the Service is coordinated by ‘Churches together in Britain and Ireland’ and this year, it was produced for world wide use by the Churches in Germany, the Theme was ‘Crossing Barriers’. As the resources took our focus to Germany we remembered the 500th Anniversary of the German Reformation and the call to reconciliation.

On day two the focus was on the Fall of the Berlin Wall – and on the News that morning it was announced about the proposed building of a Wall between Mexico and U.S.A, so we felt the need for continued prayer. After our opening hymn, prayer and talk, we divided into 2 smaller groups for discussion. We closed with prayer.

Sr. Brigid had an opportunity to speak to the Group of approx. 25 people, about Mary Aikenhead being declared Venerable and showed the book just published by Sr. Rosaleen Crossan. One of the Friends of M.M.A. who was there distributed Leaflets to all – another chance to spread our Charism.

TRAC UK Applauds Ireland for ground-breaking Law Targeting Buyers of Sex

TRAC UK (Trafficking, Advocacy and Campaigning to end sex trafficking) welcomes the news from the Republic of Ireland and applauds the government for the passage of the Criminal Law Bill (Sexual Offences) which decriminalises prostituted people and penalises the purchase of sex. Years of lobbying and campaigning by various bodies in Ireland has been successful as the Bill passed Ireland’s Lower House, Dáil Eireann, on 7 February and approved by the Upper House, Seanad Eireann on 14 February, 2017.

TRAC has been campaigning for over a decade on the issue of DEMAND as the engine driving sexual exploitation. The new Irish law will help efforts to end demand by holding sex buyers accountable and will also ensure that prostituted individuals and survivors can access comprehensive support services. In addition, it strengthens National laws against sexual grooming, child pornography and sexual harassment in the Republic of Ireland.

Survivors of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Lead Groundbreaking Campaign
Rachel Moran, founder and executive director of SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment), was a key Irish abolitionist activist who advocated for the law as part of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, a coalition of direct service providers, survivor-led groups, women’s rights organizations, labour unions, medical providers and other groups in Ireland.

“It’s been six years almost to the day since I first spoke publicly in Dublin about the harm and damage of prostitution and the need for our government to do something about it,” she said. Rachel Moran is author of “Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution.”

“Ireland is now a hostile territory for pimps and traffickers, and a place where men can no longer legally use women’s desperation to buy their way inside our bodies. This is a historic day that sends a message of hope.”

The Republic of Ireland follows the example of Sweden, the first country, almost 20 years ago, in 1999, to legally recognise prostitution as a form of violence and discrimination against women. Norway and Iceland followed in 2009, and Canada (with exceptions), Northern Ireland 2015 and, most recently, France. All have enacted demand-focused, abolitionist laws to combat the multi-billion dollar sex trade and its economic engine, sex trafficking. This legal framework is known as the ‘Swedish’ or ‘Nordic’ model.

Members of TRAC UK will continue to advocate and campaign with the UK Government to adopt a similar law that will follow Ireland’s lead in criminalising buyers of sex.

TRAC UK celebrates the news from Ireland that the Criminal Law Bill passed through both Houses of the Irish Parliament

Cardinal Vincent Nichols announced as Patron of St Joseph’s Hospice

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster has agreed to become Patron of St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney. St Joseph’s, one of the oldest hospices in the country, was founded by the Religious Sisters of Charity in 1905. They were invited to Hackney by the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vaughan, to help and care for the poor of East London who were dying in terrible conditions, mainly from tuberculosis.  Affirming his support for the work of the hospice, Cardinal Nichols said, ‘I take great pride in the history and tradition of St Joseph’s Hospice. I support the great work in continuing the tradition of the Sisters of Charity. The vision and values of the Sisters are as relevant today as ever.’

St Joseph’s Hospice now cares for more than 2,500 people with terminal or life-limiting illness in East London, within the four walls of the hospice but also out in the community. As well as inpatient and clinical care, it provides a range of services, for patients and their families, from complementary therapies, chaplaincy and psychological therapies to social and creative activities.

All St Joseph’s Hospice services are provided free of charge but only half of the funding needed is provided by the NHS. St Joseph’s needs to raise around £7 million each year through charitable donations to reach the £15 million needed to run the hospice.

Nigel Harding, Chief Executive, St Joseph’s Hospice said, ‘We are delighted that Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, has agreed to become a Patron of St Joseph’s Hospice. It is fitting that Cardinal Nichols will be a key figure in our future as Cardinal Vaughan played such an important role in our past.

‘Cardinal Nichols is a regular visitor to our hospice and is extremely popular among our patients, staff, volunteers and visitors. His all-embracing nature and belief in care for the individual fits perfectly with the mission and core values of St Joseph’s Hospice and we look forward to his continuing spiritual support over the coming years.’

Calling “Sister T” – a reflection on Prison Chaplaincy

prison-barsDuring a Sabbatical after 20 years in Palliative Care, I became aware of a plaintive and persistent call, ‘I was in prison and you visited me’ Mathew 25:36. My first response was, Oh, not so sure about that Lord! But now, after 8 years as a Prison Chaplain, I can say it has been a challenging and happy ministry.

I remember the first time I walked into a large Cat B, Male HMP (Her Majesty Prison) as a volunteer. I was immediately struck by the towering high walls, fences and metal gates. The Roman Catholic Prison Chaplain, Fr Alan, accompanying me, used his Radio confidently, making crisp military style requests and responses. It was a bit daunting at first but when I met some of the prisoners I felt at home.

Later when I was appointed the Roman Catholic Chaplain at another Prison, I became very aware of the need for Security, unlocking gates, locking gates and double checking that you have locked that gate! As a Religious Sister of Charity, Prison Chaplaincy follows in the tradition of our Foundress, Venerable Mother Mary Aikenhead who began visitation at Kilmainham Gaol in 1821 at the request of the Governor, the ministry continues today in many areas.

So having received the mandatory Security Clearance, Induction Training, ID badge and the all- important keys, I was ready to go. The keys became for me personally, a symbol of the possibility of opening doors into the lives of prisoners.

The new Chaplain joins a Multi Faith Team, which reflects the diversity within the prison. The full extended team will include Church of England, Roman Catholic, Free Church, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Pagan, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon and others as required. They work together to ensure prisoners have the opportunity to practise their Faith while in prison. The Chaplaincy Team in any prison strives to model tolerance, good humour and openness in a sometimes tense diverse atmosphere.

Prison Staff were very welcoming and soon I could hear calls for ‘Sister T’ over the Radio to attend a wing. I grew in admiration for Prison Officers who manage to keep a professional calm even under extreme provocation in potentially life threatening situations. Some officers quietly shared stories about injuries received and yet could show compassion and understanding.

The Chaplaincy Team is an integral part of any prison and team members take active roles in all area of prison life, attending various meetings and acting as advocacy for the prisoner voice. The daily round of duties include meeting new prisoners, visiting the sick on the wings or in Hospitals, visiting the Segregation Unit and meeting with those on Suicide Watch.

All new prisoners are seen within 24 hours of their arrival at a prison by a Chaplain. Their own faith Chaplain will be informed of the arrival of one of their flock! Meeting the new prisoners was always one of my favourite duties. After we got past the ‘what is a nun’ question, what no man, no children! Then I would reassure them that I had more than 300 kids at the last count! These interviews are a key part of helping prisoners to settle and identify what issues are causing distress. I came to realise Prisoners often disclose to Chaplains issues such as bullying, intimidation or suicidal thoughts. There are well used support processes that can help prisoners through difficult times.

The initial interview ensures a number of points are covered. Is the Prisoner’s Next of Kin aware of their transfer? This brings to the surface issues around family, relationship breakdown or bereavements. The Chaplain confirms the religious status, this allows the prisoner to talk about faith in his life and possibly, giving it all another try. Finally, the Chaplain asks how the prisoner is coping, for many men just having a safe opportunity to talk honestly about what has happened, their offence, the impact on partner and children will be enough to get them through the days.

There is a dark and increasingly common reality in prisons today, as substance abuse becomes more of a problem. It is often at the root of much of the violence, bullying, debts and paranoid thoughts among prisoners. This has led to one of the most frustrating and distressing situations for staff, as all are caught up in an endless cycle of firefighting in an effort to preserve young lives. The long term damage to cognitive ability of these chemical cocktails is unknown but seeing the current effects, where men are unable to think or act rationally and just deconstruct their lives and relationships, presents a terrifying future.

Prisoners often talk with Chaplains about their life story, their path from childhood to prison; I was surprised that some younger men were quietly grateful to be in prison. These men, who are street scared and street wise, have seen the worst effects of crime on family and friends. As one lad told me when Gang issues had led to the deaths of friends on the outside, ‘if I had not been banged up, I would be flowers on a fence by now’ they have in some ways grown up in Prison and are desperately hoping for a future better than their past.

As the Roman Catholic Chaplain, I found that many of the younger men had retained little if any of the Catechesis they had received as children and were generally confused about their faith. For many, the Religion they indicated, if not Nil, was often that of their Grandmothers. Much of the knowledge they had, appeared to come from Media and the Movies. The ‘Gospel according to Dan Brown’ sparked off many interesting questions and lively discussions as I tried to clarify some fundamental tenets of the Christian Faith! Joe, an older man, was surprised to learn after we had studied the Nativity accounts, that Joseph was not the father of Jesus, as I begun to explain, he pointed out earnestly that Joseph was in all the photos! When I queried this, Joe told me, yes, you will see them at Christmas!

In the RC Study group, this may be the first time prisoners encounter the Gospel and many find it compelling. They have a particular empathy and affinity with Christ when we study the Trial and Passion accounts. Judas gets immediately condemned as a ‘grass’ with no mercy! Their assessment of the arrest and trial, lead to calls of ‘a proper stitch up’ as for poor Mary Magdalen, she is met with prejudice however she does get full credit for ‘not legging it’ and staying by the cross on Good Friday. Their reflections and comments are challenging as they explore scripture with a fresh eye that our years of familiarity can dull.

As prisoners move through their sentence, many change for a variety of reasons, sometimes having missed out on so many milestones in the lives of their children or loved ones; they begin to tell you, ‘this is all a mug’s game’ and ask for help in their Victim Awareness work. This can be a painful process, as they begin to face up to the offences they have committed and its impact on others, they hope, they are not that ‘man’ any longer and have moved on.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation can provide a new beginning at this stage. Many prisoners who have not been to ‘Confession’ since their school days, may have little understanding of what’s involved yet instinctively know in their hearts that this is a sacred moment of grace and mercy, that allows them to leave it all behind and not drag it out the Gate with them. But there are lots of questions, what to say; No, don’t worry, Fr Simon has heard it all before and worse! No, he will not ‘grass’ on you. 25 years of stuff? Well, perhaps just the highlights then, time is limited! John was so happy after confession that he told everyone that it was the best ‘high’ he had ever had and recommended everyone to try it!

It is a great joy when someone discovers the person of Christ as a man, who lived a human life, got arrested and sentenced to death, but who understands our weakness and loves us no matter what we have done. We may as Prison Chaplains only get the chance to plant seeds but I believe with God’s grace they will grow and flower in a better place.

Like all Prison Chaplains I met overwhelming and constant need on a daily basis, Sometimes I felt I had nothing to give these men in their anguish, but a snatched minute of listening before another lock up, a smile and a ‘Good Morning’ John or Frank. But as I walked into the Prison each day at 7.30am I prayed, remembering I was Church and a presence of Christ in this place. In the mystery of our communion together as Christians, ‘I was in Prison’ and you came with me, as Church and with your prayers.
Sr Mary Teresa Clarke

Sr Agnes Morgan’s Jubilee Celebrations!

agnes-thumbWhen I asked some members of the community what they most remembered about Sr Agnes Morgan’s jubilee day one said “The dancing”, another “The Mass was lovely”, “Wasn’t the sing song great!”, “It was great being with the Morgan family”, and “Meeting old friends and new ones”.

agnes-bagpipesAgnes celebrated her Golden Jubilee on 11th June, and she celebrated in style! She was joined by her Co. Sr Marie Smyth who travelled from Dublin a few days before and a number of invited Sisters of Charity.

We like to think of Agnes’ jubilee as a whole day event. So our jubilee day began with gathering around the table with our visitors at morning coffee and exchanging memories, as we do when together with Sisters of Charity we haven’t seen for years, and the chat continued over a relaxed lunch. Then it was time to dress for the more ‘formal’ part of the day which began with Mass at 2pm.

The sound of bagpipes playing welcomed everyone into church. Bishop Stephen Robson of the diocese of Dunkeld and a friend of the Morgan family presided at the Mass which was celebrated at St Aloysius Church, Chapelhall. Several other priests concelebrated including the parish priest, Fr Rooney.

agnes-churchAgnes belongs to a large family and many live locally so the family representation at the Mass was large. The Mass was joyful and relaxed. Afterwards members of the congregation commented on the readings Agnes had chosen – Hosea: ‘I will betroth you to myself forever’, Psalm 16 (sung): ‘You are the centre of my life…’, 1 Peter: ‘In his great mercy he has given us a new birth as his sons and daughters…’, John 17: ‘That they may be one like us’

A sit down meal was organized in the parish hall afterwards and towards the end of this meal the Morgan family broke into song. agnes-church2So for about half an hour we had a sing song with individual and community singing. It was a lovely end to that part of the day, but there was more to come!

Because not all of the Morgan family could be invited to the meal a ceilidh was organized for the evening which was open to all the family, close friends and the community. Here the younger and older generations took to the floor as the music filled the hall. Everyone enjoyed the music and dancing and the buffet which was provided later in the evening.

agnes-meal1It was a day when there was room for everything, chatting, praying, laughing eating and drinking, singing, dancing, and meeting others. As one member of the community said “It was a day and night celebration and it all came together beautifully”. Well done Agnes, you gave us all a great day!

 

 

 

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Shifting the Burden – Legislation to help women in prostitution

pros-thumbA full day took place in a room in the House of Commons discussing how best to proceed with legislation around prostitution. The day was attended by representatives of various organisations who work with those caught up in prostitution or human trafficking. It was also attended by several women who had exited prostitution and had themselves become involved in helping prostituted people, speaking out against prostitution or offering support to those still involved and those who want to exit. Some of these women represented countries with different forms of legislation where, for example, prostitution was legalised and no one was prosecuted or completely illegal and everyone involved could be prosecuted. With both of those models the women faired very badly. Where it was completely legalised we heard that violence was a frequent occurrence. Where it was prohibited there was the danger of prosecution and violence was still a frequent occurrence. Although everyone involved was liable to prosecution it was usually the women who are targeted.

pros2In the course of the day several of the women spoke of their experiences while working on the streets, in clubs or in brothels. Almost all of them had started life at a disadvantage having been abused or neglected as children. They told how they had drifted or had been drawn into prostitution or were forced through financial necessity or by boyfriends to adopt this way of life. It was always meant to be in the short term but once they were in it was impossible to get out. They spoke of the brutality they had endured at the hands of clients and the complete lack of support or empathy from pimps or brothel owners when an incident happened, on the contrary they were expected to see the next client regardless of injuries or trauma suffered. Prostitution is 50 times more dangerous than the most dangerous job, we were told by a police officer. The women present nodded when one of the speakers mentioned something that they resonated with. One such occasion was when the speaker told of the feelings she carried while in prostitution and realised “The harm, and what was happening in my heart, my soul, my body.” They spoke of how difficult it was to exit prostitution. The level of support needed by a woman when exiting was very high and included a safe place to be. Being in prostitution renders a woman unemployable and women return to prostitution as the only way they can earn money.

There was a consensus in the room that the type of legislation we need is one that tackles Demand. This model of legislation is called the Nordic Model because it originated in Sweden in1998. If demand is tackled there will be no prostitution or trafficking for that purpose. It is generally acknowledged by those working with prostituted people that the best way of tackling demand is by making the purchasing of sex a criminal act. On the other hand prostituted people would not be pros3criminalised. This would make things safer for them because they could tell the police when violence is used against them without fear of being prosecuted. In some countries having a criminal record can make a woman unemployable thus forcing her back to the only ‘job’ she can do. The abolition of prostitution is the goal of this model and abolitionists believe that no woman, or man, freely chooses prostitution as a way of life. There is a small minority in prostitution that has chosen it as a career but they are very highly paid and can choose their clients. The vast majority of prostituted people have no choice about who to go with or what to do or not do when with a client.
A Swedish police officer spoke with us about his experience of being an arresting officer of those who tried to purchase sex. He told of hundreds of arrests and a decrease in prostitution. There is now a much lower rate of prostitution and trafficking in Sweden than in Denmark where the Nordic Model is not law. The police are accompanied to a scene by a social worker who is available for the woman. The officer said that a woman had told the social worker that the police are bad for business but good for the women.

pros1The Nordic Model has been adopted in Norway, France, Canada and Northern Ireland in recent years. Other countries: Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Israel are considering introducing it. Both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed resolutions by large majorities recommending the Nordic Model “as an effective way to tackle trafficking and prostitution in Europe”. The Swedish government has argued that prostitution is strongly related to violence against women and promotes inequality.

Efforts have been made here in the UK to have this legislation introduced when the Modern Slavery Bill was going through parliament two years ago but the Modern Slavery Bill was not considered an appropriate place for it. It was felt that it needed to be a separate piece of legislation. Now, however, it is in danger of being lost as the government is dragging its feet while looking at all models including the New Zealand model. This model, places all power in the hands of the brothel owners or ‘employers,’ who, in the women’s experience, are unscrupulous and can make whatever demands they like thus placing the women in situations which are compromising and damaging.

Please pray and work for the introduction of the Nordic Model into our society. Give prostituted women a chance to retrieve their lives from the brutality and inhumanity of prostitution.
Patricia Byrne rsc

Modern Slavery Garden wins Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show

2016-7htgardenAwarded gold, Juliet Sargeant’s Modern Slavery Garden highlighted the chilling fact that, two centuries after the passing of the Slavery Act, there are still 27 million slaves worldwide.
At the heart of the Modern Slavery Garden is an oak tree, similar to the one (still alive in Sussex) under which William Wilberforce stood when he dedicated his life to ending slavery, symbolising hope. A series of front doors such as you see on every street led to a path of freedom planted with a riot of colour, to uplift and give hope.
You can see and hear Juliet Sargeant speak about the garden at the following links: ITV News and BBC News

Bishop Toal marks the 30th anniversary of St Andrew’s Hospice, Airdrie

2016-7-airdrieSeveral Sisters of Charity, including Sr Mary Christian and Sr. Rita Dawson,  joined friends and supporters of St Andrew’s Hospice in Airdrie at a special Mass at St Margaret’s Church to celebrate 30 years of the hospice.
Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell led the Mass on April 26, which was attended by Sisters, staff and volunteers, politicians, clergy, donors and people who have helped the hospice over the years.
“Thank you to everyone who joined us at our thanksgiving Eucharist Celebration today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of St Andrew’s Hospice,” a statement released by the hospice said. “We are so grateful for the incredible support we’ve received throughout the last 30 years which has allowed us to provide specialist palliative care to our patients and their families.”
Louise Arthur, of their Capital Appeal team said the Mass was ‘an opportunity to look back at the last 30 years.’
“It was a lovely service,” Ms Arthur said. “And afterwards at tea everyone was sharing stories of their experiences with the hospice and even starting to plan how the hospice will see another 30 years.”
The Airdrie charity was founded in 1986 by the Sisters of Charity and since then has provided specialist care for thousands of Lanarkshire patients with life-limiting illnesses. It is now fundraising for its ongoing capital appeal—aiming to raise £9 million to completely refurbish and reconfigure the hospice’s Henderson Street home.
The money will go towards an upgraded building that will enable the hospice to increase their occupancy rate by creating more single bedded rooms. It will also be spent on the equipment and facilities needed to deliver modern hospice care.
The story of the hospice goes back two centuries to the foundation of the Religious Sisters of Charity by Mary Aikenhead in 1815 and it is Mary Aikenhead’s vision which is alive today in the hospices.
St Margaret of Scotland Hospice, Clydebank, was represented at last week’s Mass by its chief executive, Sr Rita Dawson.
Though St Andrew’s actually opened in 1986, the official opening of St Andrew’s Hospice took place on November 30 1988.
After the Mass everyone was invited back to the parish hall for refreshments and the possibility of reunion among former colleagues, volunteers and friends.

E-letter St Andrews celeb

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

Sr Pat Kenny tells us of her experience of attending training in Advocacy, Lobbying and Campaigning, for RENATE Members, from 7th-12th March, 2016, at the Mater Salvatoris Retreat and Conference Centre, Máriabesnyö, Hungary.

Thirty four RENATE members, including Srs Eilis Coe and Pat Kenny, and three staff from a total of seventeen countries across Europe, gathered together at the Mater Salvatoris Retreat and Conference Centre, to train on Advocacy, Lobbying and Campaigning, with a view to giving ‘a voice to the voiceless.‘
It was a week of prayer, activities and capacity building, comprising presentations, discussions and active engagement. The week provided participants with an opportunity to share best practise, familiarise ourselves with the local context and get to know one another as a Network.
2016-7es-renateFollowing the annual meeting of the Working Board, on Monday, 7th of March, Ivonne Van de Kar, core group member of RENATE, delivered the two-day training programme on Advocacy and Campaigning. We learned that Advocacy is really awareness-raising while Lobbying was identified as ‘Advocacy with a goal’. It is an ongoing activity.never ending! Campaigning is much larger than Advocacy and aims not only to influence policy but also to raise public support; change attitudes and behaviours and give a project a broader impact.
To give us a picture of the local situation in Hungary with regard to Human Trafficking, we heard from a variety of groups
• SARA, which comprises of both Religious (5 Congregations of women) and lay
people. Their aim is to raise awareness and create a robust network to help those in distress. In the contemporary Hungarian Catholic Church, there is very little reference to Human Trafficking. Consequently, SARA sees the need to work with schools in prevention and awareness raising to inform youth who plan to go to Western Europe in search of better jobs.
• Youth Protection Programme – Human Eyes whose main aim is to repress the prostitution of children and youth vulnerable to and involved in criminal activities. There is an increasing number of boys being prostituted currently.
• Hungarian National Police – The policewomen presented a Powerpoint (available at www.renate-europe.net) which outlined the judicial structures of Hungary, from the Government down. This included the National Protective Service which interrogates crime within the Police and judicial services itself and the National Bureau of Investigation which works in the Human Trafficking area.
• RAVOT-Europe project – ‘Referral of and Assistance for Victims of Human Trafficking in Europe’ The speaker was from the Dept. of European Co-operation, Ministry of Interior, Hungary. The project involved Belgian, Dutch and Hungarian partners and the objectives have included the development of co-operation and mutual understanding, information exchange and the prevention of obstacles to referral processes. The net result has been a Hotline and the establishment of a State-funded shelter under the Ministry of the Interior.
• ‘Anonymous Ways Foundation’ – Servants Anonymous Foundation is a private, Christian foundation originally from Calgary, Canada and now in a number of cities in Canada and USA and locations in Europe and Asia. The inspiring presentation was given by two women running the foundation in Budapest for girls based on Gospel values of love, respect and the dignity of the human person. Their programme covers an AA 12-Steps course giving time for the girls to recover, train for work or school re-entry. The emphasis throughout is on building their self-esteem so they become more independent and responsible.
Full information is available on the RENATE website www.renate-europe.net
This is a flavour of our time in Budapest, very full, but a great experience of networking as each time we meet we are more at ease with each other and understanding of where we all come from – that is both geographically and historically. I have been shocked at my own ignorance of what was happening around the world in my own lifetime.

200th Celebrations carry on into 2016!

2016-7hackneythumbSr Angela Murphy, a member of the Hackney community gives us an inside view of the Bi-centenary co-hosted by the Sisters of Charity community and St Joseph’s Hospice and following on from Sr Angela’s account two sisters who attended from Airdrie community, Srs Maria Porter and Catherine Egan relate their experience of the event.

“Here in Hackney our celebration of the 200 years took place on Thursday 10th March 2016. After months, weeks and finally, days of preparation everything seemed to fall effortlessly into place. The chapel in the hospice looked its very best. The choir was busy having one last practice. There was great hustle and bustle in the catering area. Sisters and hospice staff worked together greeting and welcoming invited guests including our sisters who had lived in the Hackney community over the years and many past and present members of staff.

Cardinal Vincent Nicholls was the chief celebrant at the Mass concelebrated with six other priests. It was the Cardinal’s first visit to St Joseph’s and upon entering the chapel he was surprised to see such a stunning peace-filled and prayerful place and spoke about it in his homily.

Throughout the Mass the choir sang beautifully. At the Gospel the story of Dives and Lazarus was read, the story that inspired Mary Aikenhead to dedicate her life to the service of the poor. Now in 2016 we, her followers, are challenged to embrace this story anew and discover its meaning today.

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From L-R: Srs Maria Porter, Barbara Kenny, Anne Doran, Geraldine O’Connor, Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, Srs Rita Dawson, Angela Murphy and Jacinta Rankin

In his homily Cardinal Nicholls recounted the life and ministry of Mary Aikenhead, our Foundress. He spoke about how she had inspired the founding of a hospice: “although Our Lady’s Hospice in Dublin was not opened until three years after her death…Mary is rightly lauded as the pioneer of the modern hospice movement. Providentially more hospices followed…In 1905 this hospice was opened” He went on to say “You know, what really strikes me about Mary Aikenhead and the Congregation she founded is just how marvellously you show what the Year of Mercy is about. You follow faithfully Mary’s dedication to corporal and spiritual works of mercy, not least by your abiding commitment to hospice care……To care for those who are dying, to console those who are suffering and to comfort those who are spiritually distressed are all at the heart of the works of mercy”.

Sr Rita Dawson, Provincial of the English/Scottish Province gave a very inspiring and poignant address towards the end of Mass.

After the Mass the Cardinal, in the presence of the sisters, blessed a plaque outside the old convent, now part of the hospice complex, and renamed the building Mary Aikenhead House. Following the blessing all went to the dining room where a buffet meal was served (and enjoyed) by almost two hundred guests. There was an atmosphere of joy and happiness. The Cardinal greeted many and after his meal he left to visit patients and staff in the hospice. The patients were very pleased with the Cardinal’s visit.

After the meal everyone was invited to the Convent for afternoon tea. About one hundred people came including the Cardinal. Everyone mingled as they moved around looking at the old photographs and recalling past times.

When our visitors left we breathed a sigh of relief that everything had gone so well and thankful for such a wonderful day of celebration.

May the Lord continue to fulfil His purpose for, in and through each one bringing His love and compassion to all. AMDG”

Sr. Maria Porter from Aidrie writes:
“This Celebration was a joint event organised by the Community and the Staff of St. Joseph’s Hospice Hackney. It was the final event in the yearlong festivities for the foundation of our Order by our foundress Venerable Mary Aikenhead in 1815 .

The main focus was the celebration of the Eucharist by His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, in whose diocese is the convent/hospice. Several priests who had involvement with the Community/Hospice over the years concelebrated with Cardinal Nichols.

There was a great sense of festival in the day as past and present people were invited and joyfully greeted each other – on many occasion not having seen each other for years. Blue, yellow and white balloons lined the corridors. Present were local dignitaries, the Mayor of Hackney, doctors, admin staff, social workers, nurses, porters, laundry workers, seamstress, volunteers, sisters who worked in the hospice and in local parishes – the list could go on and on. To accommodate the great number of people who came and who could not be accommodated in the chapel, the overflow was linked to an adjacent hall by television. In fact before the Eucharist the priest in charge of the Mass asked for silence. The silence was very powerful as all became recollected reflecting on the history they were involved in.

The Eucharist was very joyful with the choir adding to the overall service. Sisters from the community did some readings and bidding prayers.

Cardinal Nichols in his homily spoke of how overawed he was at the beauty of the chapel when he entered in procession. He referred to its history as being the only building to survive the blitz in l939/45. He went on to speak of the foundation of the Order in Hackney in 1900 at a time of great poverty in the area when sisters visited the sick and poor in their homes.

Then in 1905 because of the great need to care for those who were seriously sick a hospice was founded. During his homily Cardinal Nichols read out the names of the first five sisters who started the hospice – Sr.Winifred Sugrue, Sr Mary Sabas O’Connor, Sr Mary Uriel Duffy, Sr.Catherine O’Flynn and Sr. Agnes Aloysius Martin.

At the conclusion of the Mass Sister Rita Dawson, Provincial leader of England/Scotland spoke of the growth of the hospice in Hackney and the great legacy left by the pioneer sisters. She thanked Cardinal Nichols for coming and she hoped he would visit again. Sr. Rita spoke of the Core Values of the hospice and about how important they are in the situation in which we live. Sister got a great ovation for her words of appreciation and encouragement for the future of the work in Hackney.

Later Cardinal Nichols unveiled a plaque to the wonderful founding sisters. The plaque is outside Mary Aikenhead House. Part of this building was the original Convent and has now been adapted to facilitate the day Hospice needs.

A beautiful buffet was served in the dining room where more greetings and sharing of past and present experiences were exchanged. Meeting old work colleagues and past friends of the convent was one of the highlights of the day. Afterwards all were invited to the convent dining room for tea and cakes.

Cardinal Nichols left at this stage of the celebration as he was due in the local church of St.John the Baptist for Visitation. The parish priest Fr.David had assisted the Cardinal at the Eucharist in the chapel.

A big thank you must go to Sr.Geraldine O’Connor and her community for such a great celebration of the foundation of the Congregation.
Sisters May Commins, Maria Porter and Catherine Egan represented the Airdrie Community.”

Sr Catherine Egan writes of her joy at meeting old friends and work colleagues:
“The joint Celebration of St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney and the Convent Community was a held on March 10th; it must have been the final one for the Province marking the 200 years since the Order was founded in 1815.

The occasion was joyful, a real celebration and what an opportunity for those of us who had worked at St Joseph’s Hospice to come together! Recognising work colleagues from the past and noticing how the passing of time changes us all! We greeted each other and chatted about many things as time permitted and it’s true to say the afternoon passed all too quickly!

Doctors who served and worked in the Hospice and Heenan House including Dr Margaret McKerrow, Dr Louis Hayes-Moore, Dr Louise Moore and Dr Richard Lamerton – who set up the Home care services with the late Sr Mary Antonia, RIP, – were there to mark the occasion.

2016-7hackney2Cardinal Vincent Nichols was the main celebrant at the Mass and it was good to see Fr Brian former Chaplain to St Joseph’s together with Fr Fox from the Augustine Community in Hoxton and the present chaplain Fr Peter Smith, all concelebrating at the Mass.

In his homily the Cardinal talked about the poverty of the East End of London in 1905 and how the hospice to-day continues to care for those who are most in need following in the footsteps of the early pioneers and meeting the needs of the sick.

After the Mass the Cardinal also visited the sick in the Hospice and was generous in giving of his time to visit the Sisters in the Convent also and to join in the afternoon Tea where the Celebration cake was served.”