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Beautiful Music in Birkenhead and Rock Ferry

December days can be dark and cold but last December was brightened by evenings of beautiful music. Father Philip McGovern, Parish Priest in Our Lady’s Church is a member of the Oriel Singers and he invited the Choir to perform Advent and Christmas songs in the Church after Mass on Saturday December 2nd. It was an event the parishioners and friends looked forward to as the Choir had given a concert of Lent and Easter music earlier in the year. Although the attendance was small all enjoyed the performance and look forward the return of the Choir during Lent.

On the following evening December 3rd the Liverpool Bach Collective came to sing a different kind of music. The performance of the Bach Cantata 30 was wonderful. It was the Cantata for the second Sunday of Advent telling the story of John the Baptist. This Choir visits the Churches in Liverpool and Merseyside, introducing Bach music and have a large following for their concerts.

Father Bernard Forshaw, Parish Priest in Saint Anne’s, Rock Ferry invited the Birkenhead Operatic Society to come to Saint Anne’s on Wednesday 14th December for a Carol Service and Christmas music . On arrival we were entertained to hot punch or a cold drink and a mince pie which put everyone into a happy mode. After the Carol Service the music changed to songs from the Musicals as well as popular Christmas songs in which all joined in. The singing was magnificent and an enjoyable evening ended all too soon.
The proceeds of the evening was divided between Saint Anne’s and the Birkenhead Operatic Society. It is hoped for further musical evening later in the year.
Sr. Teresa Harmon

Catholics in the UK make a response to the plight of homeless people

It’s a very common sight to see homeless people sleeping rough in our UK towns and cities. There are many charities throughout the country which aim to support homeless people in various ways. New initiatives are growing up beside long standing ones as the problem of homelessness and poverty grows in our society. Sr Mary Brennan RSC is involved in a charity which is a new initiative in response to the number of people living on the streets:

Homeless Initiative
This is an event which is being pioneered by some of the St. Vincent de Paul members in the Birkenhead area at present.
It consists of the use of Thompson’s Mission building on a monthly basis to provide the Homeless people of Birkenhead with a 3 course hot meal and also warm clothing. All this is done by a group of volunteers and Sr. Mary Brennan is part of the group. The meals are cooked by the volunteers and most of it is brought into the Centre. It is an attempt to break down the social isolation felt by so many homeless people. Over the past few meetings about 35 people were given a hot meal and some clothing. Things are moving as the people get to know the volunteers and they are sharing their stories. They are very grateful and a lot want to stay and chat. There is provision for Official night Shelter in Birkenhead and this is well used, but it is during the day that the homeless experience loneliness having no where to go. Plans are now moving to develop the outreach.

Acton Homeless Concern
Another Sister of Charity, Sr Madeleine McCann, is also working with homeless people helping to provide meals for up to 200 people at the Emmaus Centre in Acton, West London. Acton Homeless Concern is a drop-in day centre for homeless people and people from other disadvantaged groups. There, the opportunity for a shower, clean clothes and advice is also provided.
This charity is twenty seven years old and so has developed a comprehensive strategy to try to meet as many of the needs of those it serves as possible.
Sr Brigid Kelly

Celebration at Westminster Cathedral on the Feast of the Presentation

Sr Nuala McGinley shares her experience of celebrating the Feast of the Presentation at Westminster Cathedral in London last month.
The 2nd February Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple is an important day for all Religious to celebrate the consecration of their lives to God through their Vows. Our community here at St Joseph’s honours this by attending the special Mass which is held at Westminster Cathedral annually. About three hundred Religious, men and women attended this year. That number looked miniscule in a building with a capacity for two thousand and more. In the school hall afterwards we seemed to be crowded. There were a big number of priests con-celebrating with Cardinal Vincent Nichols presiding. It was very impressive. Three of our community traveled by taxi, three chose public transport while one Sister could not attend due to demands of her ministry. It is remarkable how the number of Religious attending this beautiful celebration has diminished over the years. Most of us are nearing the Golden Jubilee stage of our lives. Yet it is remarkable how active the group is. The singing was good and pleasant on the ear with one of the men from the Westminster choir, a tenor leading us.

Bishop George Stack, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, gave the Homily in which he praised the work of the Religious of the Diocese of Westminster.
“It is my privilege on behalf of the Cardinal to give thanks to the Religious of the Diocese for your faithfulness to your calling. On behalf of the countless people you serve, to give thanks for the witness you give by the hope that lies in your hearts. Because you invest your time, your energy, your lives in those people you serve through your many different ministries and apostolates, you bring to birth the words of St. Irenaeus ‘The glory of God is humanity fully alive’.”

The Mass was attended by sisters from around 60 religious communities across the Diocese of Westminster and was followed by a reception in Westminster Cathedral Hall.

After the celebration we all proceeded to Westminster School Hall where we queued up for a warm ample lunch served by a group of young men and women. Our local bishop Nicholas Hudson queued up with us as did the Cardinal. The two course lunch was very acceptable on a cold day. There was a choice of meat or vegetarian food. The whole welcoming part of the celebration was very efficiently organised. Young waiters visited each group inviting each one to enjoy some more drinks. Wine flowed abundantly together with a variety of soft drinks. There was great chatter in the hall as many people became reacquainted with well-known friends of some-time in the past. Fr Jerry Galloway S.J. who had been our chaplain for a few years at the Hospice, came to greet us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable two hours spent in most welcoming company.

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!





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