Summer Lourdes part 2 and more goodbyes

Hi everyone!

So here it is, quicker than normal, in a desperate attempt to publish this post this afternoon. I won’t keep you too long with introductions, in case you are currently in full flow from part one. So it continues…

Monday’s breakfast dawned, and with it, a particularly early start for my group. I would like, at this point, to issue a personal apology to Joe Gardiner. I had volunteered for us to be up and out at 8am…. After an excellent morning prayer delivered by two of my group and next year’s Walsingham House team (proving of course that they were definitely up to the challenge and also particularly enthusiastic) we set off to make sense of the breakfast bar. Not in the week I was there did I understand why there were no bowls next to the fruit, meaning a walk up and down the dining room a ridiculous number of times before you even sat down. But this was, of course, a minor issue. We were out just after 8 I think and heading towards the Baths. Again, I experienced some trepidation, as I was the only member of my group to have had this opportunity before. Was I going to explain it properly? Thankfully, I have been assured that I did help to prepare the girls for this experience and was even more delighted to discover they really enjoyed it. In fact, many of the Year 13s enjoyed and highly recommended the experience. There were other English speakers in my bath, in fact, an incredible number considering the number of staff on duty. It was pretty busy that day, probably due to the arrival of the French World Youth Day contingent. I can’t have been too bad a baths volunteer (even though I did feel like it was back to the beginning at the start as each bath has different ways of working) as the Madame, lady in charge, had been recommending volunteering in the baths to me on a longer term visit. I was heartened to hear many of the volunteers return many times because it is such an incredible experience.  After lunch, we headed off to our next stop, the Basilica for Mass. This was an incredible Mass, when the diocesan pilgrims were presented to Bishop Thomas and giving us all a chance to officially mark the beginning of the pilgrimage.  Reconciliation in the evening proved to be another highlight, not least because this was the last service the Walsingham House team 2012-13 would lead together. The Mission Week team shared their incredible testimonies and resources, with opportunities for the young people to experience both reconciliation and a number of prayer stations. When the heat became too much, we headed outside. I have to say, sitting in a circle with my small group praying a decade of the rosary and reflecting on the first 24 hours was a real highlight for me, and being so near to the other groups highlighted the real sense of community shown by the BCYS. After a quick Grotto stop, we moved back to the Shamrock for another gathering. This proved to be another amusing part of the pilgrimage. Peter and Greg from my small group had been asked to complete another duty, with the understanding that the whole group should be at the Shamrock at 11. As if on cue, I looked down the road at exactly 11:00 to see two figures in Brentwood blue sprinting down the road. They must have been aware their athletics had gained a lot of attention from the bar, as they both looked round, stopped running and carried on walking down the road at precisely the same time, careful to look round and see if anyone from the general public had noticed! Greeting them at the bottom of the stairs, I couldn’t speak for laughing to begin with.

Tuesday began with another morning prayer. led expertly by Olivia and Leila, two more Walsingham House new recruits. After breakfast, we began a walk to the Hotel America to pick up equipment needed for Mass. This Mass was outside in the heat, and so my hat was definitely in attendance. This means, of course, that you can’t miss me in any photos taken during the Mass, as I didn’t dare remove it because of the rather high temperatures. A surprise awaited me on arrival, the Walsingham House team were performing a signed song during the Mass. I was delighted, and thankfully this went without a hitch. After Mass, the Easter Lourdes group had a reunion photo by the statue of St John Vianney. Well most of us did, Nick Tisi had disappeared! The diocesan photo followed before everyone returned to the hotels before lunch. The rest of the group were heading to Lac du Lourdes for some time in the sunshine, my group were heading to help Fr Bob’s group. This was another highlight of the pilgrimage for many. Fr Bob’s group were all so friendly, and I admired the enthusiasm shown by Fr Bob and his group leaders. I for one was very excited to share this experience with the group, especially as I had seen a couple of them in passing at Easter. Isaac seemed to certainly be enjoying this visit and cracking jokes left, right and centre! After the lake, we headed to the shops where I helped Mary decide what to buy. Walking round the shops, I was both delighted and proud to see how my group had taken to this role and were providing entertainment and enthusiasm for the pilgrims.  This part of the pilgrimage, though rewarding, was exhausting!  After a return to the hotel, we headed out to the torchlight procession, another highlight in my week. Having marshalled at Easter, I was familiar with the format, but had never been part of the procession myself. Unfortunately, the weather was sent to try us, with some heavy rain and persistent wind trying to keep candles out and dampen enthusiasm. Whilst candles wouldn’t always light, the enthusiasm of the whole group certainly wasn’t dampened. Being in the centre of a sea of Blue was a real honour, but not perhaps as amazing as Sophie and Tom’s experience. Sophie spent most of the time trading candles with Bishop Thomas, whilst Tom rad the 5th decade of the rosary in English (I wondered why I could hear a familiar voice!) After the procession, we headed to Hotel Solitude, where Stansted quickly swept up all the available places in the quiz. Sophie Horton’s group came in at last place, but with a good hard fight, Year 13s came in 2nd place much to delight, which left group 16, with Tom and Sophie from Stansted scooping 1st prize. 

Wednesday dawned, and so did a most welcome lie-in. This was the Year 13 retreat to Gavarnie in the mountains. Sean continued the future Walsingham House team’s  run of morning prayers by leading with Pat, another Year 13 with great ideas. We headed up to the mountains, and many of us slept most of the way there. Our retreat began soon after we arrived, a walk through the beautiful scenery and Mass with a difference. At each stop, Fr Dom delivered a different part of the Mass. The end, communion in a circle surrounded by beautiful scenery and in the company of the whole Year 13 group, was truly breathtaking. After Mass, the more seasoned hikers continued towards the waterfall, whilst we headed back down. Thank you again Emily for the company and help with the slightly dubious parts of the descent back down! A particular shout out must, at this point, go to the very brave Beth, who despite her crutches, joined us for all aspects of Mass and somehow managed to get down before Emily and I. This led to an enjoyable afternoon taking in the surroundings and appreciating each other’s company. The diocesan pilgrims appeared mid-afternoon, and once again, many of our young people set off to help them experience the beauty of Gavarnie. I headed with a group up to the small Church, which was incredibly beautiful. Having experienced many Churches, I have to say the smaller ones definitely have a unique feel and atmosphere. That evening was party night for both the youth service and pilgrims. It was great to see Fr Bob’s group enjoying the occasion and also an opportunity to catch up with the rest of the leaders and young people. Some of the Year 13 volunteered, along with some others, to take the diocesan pilgrims to the Grotto at night, and they returned enthusiastic about the profound experience they’d had. What a great 3 days we’d had.

Thursday was the day for the Grotto Mass, the Brentwood tunnel and the Walsingham House team Grotto stop. Many of the youth service formed the famous Brentwood tunnel, allowing the pilgrims to be safely wheeled to the Grotto in time for Mass. Some of us joined with Shrewsbury and Westminster to provide another tunnel, as the Westminster contingent alone was, I’m told, closer to 1,000 people! It was great to speak to some of the pilgrims and discover their experiences, but a challenge trying to stop other enthusiastic pilgrims from using our tunnels as a short cut! Unfortunately, the youth service weren’t situated very near the Grotto for Mass, but it was still a profound and special Lourdes experience. After lunch, some of the year 13s headed off with Fr. Bob’s group, and I joined them, along with Stuart. There was another chance for amazing views, and many took advantage of another walk to see even more. However, my muscles still hadn’t recovered from the previous day, so I sat with the others until it was time for me to leave. I was on a very tight schedule that day, as the team were meeting at the Grotto for one final goodbye. I somehow managed to navigate the public bus to outside the domaine, and this is despite the driver possible thinking I was Italian, having given me the fare in Italian… Fr James accompanied us to the Grotto and led a reflection both before and after we lit our special candle. We, of course, had special prayers for Jon and Aisling who I’ve no doubt were with us in spirit. Our final full day in Lourdes concluded with a wonderful talent show and karaoke opportunity in the Solitude. The Walsingham House team were reunited here for one last task, to begin a leader’s song for Sarah Barber “Everything I Do, I do it in my Blue”. A fitting tribute for the end (well almost) of Sarah’s final pilgrimage in charge. The Year 13s were thanked for their hard work and were given a well deserved treat of another, later gathering in the Shamrock bar.

Friday. The last day in Lourdes, dawned with sunshine and heat to match the other days. After an emotional goodbye to Fr Bob’s group (and a complimentary song) we headed to our final Mass, where Tom represented Stansted by holding the umbrella for Bishop Thomas. The afternoon was the opportunity for a final gathering. The Year 13s performed an excellent signed song to introduce our affirmations service, and everyone cherished this final time in small groups. We then processed over the bridge and down for a final prayer time and to see our candle lit. This was the second time I had been in the centre of a sea of Blue, and it was a truly wonderful sight, watching 250 Brentwood Blues process respectfully over the bridge and down to the Grotto. My group were one of the first to see the candle being lit, and this too was a beautiful moment. Our pilgrimage was officially ended with a piece of Lourdes tradition. We stood in two circles and held hands for a decade of the Rosary round the Crown Virgin statue. A wonderful moment to end an amazing week.
However, Stansted’s work was still not done. Thanks to Joe Beattie, we were able to get the promised Parish photo outside the Basilica, before we made our own pilgrimage to the Grotto. The purpose: to deliver the many prayer intentions of the Parish to Mary and finish our own time with a Hail Mary for Fr. Joe and all the Parish back at home. It was another moment of mixed feelings, walking away from the Grotto and knowing our time in Lourdes was almost done. Soon enough, it was time to board to coaches and set off. Now, if you’re thinking “what could there possibly be to report about a coach journey across France?” you would be very mistaken indeed. Not long into our journey, a storm began. Not just any storm. This storm followed us through France for 500 miles. Lightning was every couple of seconds, thunder was loud and the rain was crazy. Not being a fan of storms myself, I was keen to try and sleep, but to no avail really. Each coach had their own experience. Purple coach was struck by lightning twice (but everyone was OK, don’t worry!) Orange Coach had a slight problem with the air conditioning unit and this caused some standing water, Blue coach had to stop whilst the drivers and Fr. Chris removed a branch from the road in front of us… As far as I know, Green Coach was perhaps the easiest journey, although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
We also all managed to make the same ferry too, which was remarkable considering. The drivers really did an amazing job getting us home.

Back at Brentwood, it was time for a celebration of all we had achieved. Families, friends of the Youth Service and 250 pilgrims straight off a 18 hour coach journey gathered to celebrate together. A wonderful homily from Fr Martin and much singing and celebration was definitely a large part of this Mass. At the end, Sarah presented each leader with a group photo and a BCYS water bottle as a thank you. Year 13s certainly made themselves heard when we were called forward! It was also great to see Isaac again, who had come to celebrate specially with his BCYS friends. Thank you Isaac for coming down :) Then it was more difficult goodbyes to the team and the leaders and young people who had shaped the week, before heading back to Stansted to begin (well for me anyway) a 3 week summer job. This finished on Friday, so that explains, in part, why it has taken me so long to write this.

So I suppose most of you are wondering “what now?”
Well, I’m job hunting again and hoping something comes along. I also passed my first year of the MA, so thinking about next year’s module choices too. I’m still, of course, in contact with the BCYS, and will have attended a couple of celebratory parties in the last few weeks. A wonderful weekend visit from Olivia also helped with the Walsingham House blues! But I suppose I’m still very much in the middle of this transition. If anyone from Lourdes is reading this, 4th September is a date for the diary. Sarah Barber’s celebration Mass and the commissioning of the new 2013-14 team. Definitely a must! Parish wise, we are preparing for our first “Youth Mass” on 8th September. It’s a New Beginnings Mass for anyone starting a new school, sixth form and university. My Walsingham House experience will definitely come in handy :)

But this also means that katharinewalsinghamhouseblog is also coming to an end. Perhaps with the odd update to report on a special BCYS event or future retreat (if they’ll have me back to help of course!) Will I write another blog? I don’t know. I suppose that’s up to you as the loyal readers :)

So to end with a few thank you’s and final wishes, which definitely can’t be done justice in a mere blog post.
Thank you first of all to the wonderful team I was privileged to share a year with on the exotic Canvey Island. Jon, Sara and Aiden, I’m looking forward to visiting your Castle, thank you for all the support. Michael and Leighton, best of luck for the next chapter in Walsingham House history, and in particular to Leighton, I hope you will re-start your blogging. Michael, thanks for your support in community and I’ll definitely be back to visit! Thank you to you all and Olivia for inspiring me to join the team in the first place. Thanks to Olivia for so many wonderful times including an afternoon tea not to be forgotten, Ian for the amazing music and being the best neighbour I could’ve had. Aisling, thanks for your great example devotion to your faith and all the best to these three during their university adventures. Joe, thank you for those pool dates we had, and for letting me win that time! Good Luck at St Vincent’s next year, you’ll be great. Jade, thank you for those crazy times, sharing of giraffe facts and that great Shrek Musical evening. Good Luck with your job and your future decisions about where to go next. To Fr. James, Teresa and Natalie who complete our team, thank you very much for everything you’ve done. I truly appreciate it.

To Team 2013-14. Have a ball. It truly is a wonderful year. You are all on the team for your gifts and talents you can share with each other and with the young people. Enjoy every minute, it goes so fast. I have no doubt you will each be fantastic and make your own mark on the House and the many young people lucky enough to visit. If anyone reading this is maybe considering Walsingham House in the future, definitely go for it. You won’t be disappointed and will gain so much from it.

Of course, a special thank you to Sarah Barber. I did it, I managed to complete this blog post today! Thank you so much for your inspiration, your example and your continued dedication to and faith in both the team and the wider BCYS. Thank you for making me feel welcome, for seeing something in me and encouraging me to develop it throughout the year. I’ve no doubt I speak for the entire youth service when I say it will be incredibly strange without you, but I am looking forward to celebrating with you and keeping up to date with your time at CAFOD, which I’ve no doubt will be amazing. Let’s meet up when you’re settled and I have a college day :)

Finally, thank you to all of you. For bearing with this incredibly long post, for following and sharing my year with me. For the prayers, the encouragement and the support. I have so many memories to take with me, it has truly been amazing. This is definitely not a goodbye to the BCYS, to the team, it’s definitely a see you soon, and for some of you, see you later at Michael’s party!

Take care and thank you again.
Love Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Exit Week, some difficult goodbyes and Summer Lourdes part 1

Hi everyone!

I hope you are all well and enjoying the summer break :) Some of you may have noticed I decided to have a bit of a layout change once again. I just thought something different to mark this transition period would be a good idea. So apart from the new look, an apology. I know this blog is once again overdue, but at least it’s not half a term late like the last one was. This is the first week all summer that I’ve finally found the chance to sit and type. I’ve also promised Sarah Barber that I’ll try and complete a post by tomorrow just for her. So here goes, please bear with me!

So, 15th July dawned. With it, Jade’s 19th birthday and the beginning of Exit Week. Needless to say, there were mixed feelings in the house that morning, particularly as Aisling was now well into her Brazilian World Youth Day adventure and wouldn’t be able to join us. Before long, excited shouts were coming from the birthday girl’s room, as she had opened the door to find a helium balloon outside. This was the beginning of the birthday celebrations, and after morning prayer we headed off for our final Emmaus walks of the year. If anyone’s wondering, yes I did learn my lesson from the Walsingham Walk and stock up on sun cream. I did, however, make a major clothing error. For some reason, I’d thought jeans were the best bet for the day’s adventures. I realised my mistake early on, but too late to do anything about it. My reasoning had been that I didn’t want to get covered in mud in my lighter coloured clothes. Perhaps I should have taken the risk after all… Any team reading this will probably agree. 

Anyway, we headed off towards Leigh, stopping at Hadleigh Castle in the Salvation Army cafe for some lunch. It was a great chance to spend time with each team member and just discuss whatever we wanted, or failing that, to walk in companionable silence. Did I mention the route we took was the same as our first walk, and therefore incorporated serious inclines and some scary verges. Thankfully, Jade, Joe and Michael came to my rescue to pull me up or guide me down and I managed virtually unscathed. On arrival in Leigh, we stopped in the pub and appreciated what scarce shade there was along with a cold, celebratory drink. After a mad dash to buy banana ice cream, we headed back on the train to a wonderful BBQ, where we were joined by Sara and Aiden to continue our celebrations. 

Day two brought with it another birthday (and a mad dash to the shop to purchase a helium balloon). Joe, the baby of the team, was finally 19. We celebrated with a wonderful cooked breakfast before beginning our reflection day. This was a particularly draining part of our week, involving a sharing sheet, evaluation and affirmations. Although this was an emotionally draining time, it was also wonderful to gather together, share memories and appreciate each other once again. Affirmations, however, proved too much for me, reducing to a complete wreck during the sign of peace (sorry everyone!) After some recovery time, there was an opportunity to celebrate Joe’s birthday. A 2012-13 calendar was the theme, with each team member taking a month and providing a relevant activity. Jon was once again the star of the kitchen, and a lively game of I Can Name was a source of great competition between Joe and Rory! 

Wednesday was cleaning day, but this time, the entire team were on hand to help. White House cleaning day was made easier by the weekend spent slaving over our bedrooms in the heat, and it was only the communal spaces that needed attention. So team of 2013-14, we took great care  to make sure the house was spotless for you, don’t you worry. After this pretty impressive feat was complete, we celebrated another birthday. Aiden’s 2nd birthday party involved a paddling pool, lots of splashing and many many toys. He absolutely loved it! Next was the Last Supper, our final treat courtesy of a fantastic idea by Jon. Joined by Fr. James and Sara, we headed back to St Bernard’s (well almost, the restaurant was nearby) to enjoy some absolutely incredible Greek cuisine. We tried so many dishes, but I have to say the lamb was incredible and not to be missed. So Akropolis is definitely a top recommendation from me. If the food wasn’t enough, the music was also incredible too. Ian, I can definitely see you doing something similar one day! Completely full up, we returned to the house where the madness of the White House continued into the next morning. Leighton attempted to cure my leaving blues by placing me on Olivia’s bike and telling me to pedal. Thankfully, the bike was still in one piece afterwards and so was I (but only because Leighton held me up to disguise my horrendous balancing skills – which any close friend or family member reading this knows well!)

After not many hours sleep, the final night in the White House turned into the final few hours. Everyone was feeling similarly subdued, so we did our best to keep the mood up. After a breakfast of some lovely pastries, with Aiden providing entertainment, the first goodbyes to Sara and Aiden were due. Poor Aiden didn’t quite understand what was happening and was a bit upset by this strange event. The rest of us were gearing ourselves up for the final Mass, during which I think I read the longest reading EVER and got slightly confused by some of the names and events in it… Never mind! It was a lovely Mass to share with each other and our families with Ian showing his musical talents and everyone participating with enthusiasm. After some refreshments, it was time to go. As the first to arrive on 2nd September, I was the first to go. After establishing everyone was in the room, I said goodbyes. Even the promise of seeing everyone on Saturday on the way to Lourdes didn’t make this moment any easier. I felt completely lost at home, setting the table for three wasn’t normal for a start! After unpacking, I realised I was soon set to pack again for Lourdes. The last two weeks seemed like a complete packing frenzy and wasn’t going to end yet!

Before long, it was time to leave for Lourdes. Sophie’s Mum came to collect me, and we were off to Brentwood. After establishing all the team and all the Stansted contingent were definitely there, the coaches started to depart for Dover. Blue Coach was definitely full of excitement, but I have to admit I did experience a certain amount of nerves. Summer was going to be very different to Easter, and I was wondering whether I would live up to the role as a Year 13 leader. Boarding the ferry, I was given my first official Leader’s lanyard and enjoyed the celebrations and some food on board. Back on the coaches, it was an overnight drive through France, during which I think I did manage some sleep, despite some more excitable coach passengers attempts to stop us! The next morning, we stopped for an hour or so, and Sophie, Clare How and I enjoyed some competitive games of Go Fish or Allez Poisson as we were now in France! We continued the journey, and it was a relief to finally arrive in Lourdes. However, the shock of the impact of the floods was almost immediate as we drove towards the hotels, as we noticed many of them closed for the rest of the season. It was particularly sad to see the St Contard closed, after an amazing stay there at Easter. Before long, however, I was appreciating the luxury the Year 13 groups were living in at the Hotel Lorda. Air conditioning was certainly welcome after a long coach journey. Fully prepared in Brentwood Blues, I headed downstairs to meet the group, including my small group for the week. Fr Dom and Jen introduced the week and it wasn’t long before my group was sent on their first service of the week, to Lourdes Airport. There, we met Bishop Thomas and the many diocesan pilgrims off the flight from Stansted. I was particularly delighted to see Isaac who had also travelled to his first Summer Lourdes after sharing an amazing Easter with him. After a coach journey back to the hotels, we made it just in time for our first diocesan Mass and afterwards enjoyed a social opportunity with the Year 13s. A very busy beginning to the pilgrimage, but so much more to come as the week progressed.

Which is where I’ll stop, for now. Nothing like leaving it on a cliffhanger! Let’s see if I can get part two finished by tomorrow as well Sarah… Stay tuned for more Lourdes adventures!

Love Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Programme Leading, a card trick and a quarter of a century

Hi everyone!

I hope you are all well, enjoying the hot weather, and (unlike me on the Walsingham Walk) managing not to get burnt!
Thanks for reading the first instalment of my summer term blog. I’m now back again to pick up where I left off.

After half term, I admit I was feeling slightly less rested than I’d hoped. Job applications and college work had been combined with my break, so I could hopefully navigate the next hectic few weeks more easily. The first week provided many challenges and opportunities. The main one of these was the opportunity to lead retreats as a programme leader. I’d been hoping I would have this chance to develop my experience, and the first retreats I experienced from the other side were 2 Campion day retreats. These were great fun, I really enjoyed leading the fruits of the holy spirit auction (and surprising the team when I did something slightly different too). The second group that week were certainly more excitable than the first, celebrating by literally bouncing around when they won a fruit! The opening prayers and liturgies were great and built on my experiences of night prayers. Having watched these for most of the year, I still had to consider my own examples and this required some preparation. But the end of the two day retreats came with a real sense of achievement and also a sense of shock, that I had actually led the retreats after all.

The following week saw my next programme leading challenge. 71 Year 6s in Walsingham House! If you’re wondering how they fitted in, you weren’t the only one. Despite hoping for a really sunny day where the young people could experience as much fresh air as possible, the sun refused to shine on. This left a rather grey day, but didn’t dampen the spirits of the team. We were able to begin outside, then have 3 groups of about 20 for the workshops. This part of the day was one where I risked being idle, as I wasn’t leading any workshops. Keeping teachers up to date and helping to prepare for the final liturgy ensured this didn’t happen, I definitely found enough to keep me occupied. We had also experienced a slight technical hitch earlier in the day, but despite that everyone enjoyed their workshops and seemed to gain a lot from them. Opening prayer and closing liturgy in the Ark were a new experience for me, but worked really well. When all the young people had left to head back to school the house seemed eerily silent.

Over the next few weeks, I embraced the opportunity to do more. I led a Year 7 day retreat and two Year 10 outreaches. Whilst I’ll be the first to admit some retreats were better than others, I wouldn’t have changed the experience. Thankfully, I was able to draw on the experiences of the team and other programme leaders to improve and develop things. Before too long, the last residential of the year arrived. This coincided with Mission Week, when most of the team headed to Hemel Hempstead. The updates I received were always positive, but Leighton, Aisling and I found the house very quiet. The residential saw me joint programme leading with Leighton for the St John Payne leadership retreat. The new Head Pupils, chaplaincy prefects and house captains came to get to know one another and understand their leadership role. Having met some of them before, it was great to see them really excited about their role and to support them in that. The end of that retreat was very surreal, as it was the last residential retreat as a team member 2012-13. But enjoyable all the same.

As well as programme leading, I also small group led for a few retreats. In the first week of the half term, Leighton, Roisin and I headed to St Mary’s for an assembly with Year 9. The first challenge was to find reception. It appeared to have moved since I was in Sixth Form! Thankfully, a sign pointed the way and we were soon back in the Hume Theatre. We all said something in the assembly, and it was quite surreal for me as one of the teachers I knew was still there and they were watching! Afterwards, we went to the RE department to provide some impromptu information about CAFOD before a meet and greet with Year 9 and also many Year 10s who had been on retreat before Christmas. This meant 25 of them turned up for the retreat (whether this was all down to the assembly I will never know). But it definitely made for an interesting experience. We headed to the beach during the break on Thursday to find the tide was in, but many of the boys enjoyed the opportunity to play some football. The talent show that evening saw me revealing a hidden talent. I performed a card trick to the Year 9s. This was the same trick I had failed to perform during a Year 5 magic show, so perhaps I was mainly putting 15 year old ghosts to rest. But it was good fun and it definitely worked! I was also part of an outreach retreat to St Cedd’s Church. We had been here previously for a confirmation outreach, this time there were about 80 Year 12s and us. It was a really good day, leading team building games and watching Joe, one of next year’s team experience his first outreach. Sean, another team member, helped us on our final retreat of the year at Gray’s Convent. It was great to see them building up confidence and being really excited about the year ahead. This gives me an opportunity to say thank you to all the past team members, youth service friends and particularly Sophie from my Parish who responded to begging phone calls for more help. Their support meant we could make the most of prep days and not feel so panicked about the heavy workload. So thank you everyone.

We have also been able to get involved with events both in and outside of Walsingham House. Youth Masses as usual were very well attended in June and July. July was a very special Mass, marking the end of an era for Walsingham House and the Youth Service, as Jon prepares to leave and take up his new challenge in Birmingham Diocese. It was also quite emotional for us, the last Youth Mass before the new team are commissioned in September. But we all managed, Olivia read wonderfully and we looked out for each other.
8th June saw me and some of the team taking part in the IF campaign G8 rally in London. We headed to Westminster to receive out CAFOD t-shirts (an important moment for me if you’ve been reading any previous blogs!) After an ecumenical service we walked from there to Hyde Park to take part in the main events. This was a great chance to spread the word, and I was also interviewed by someone from CAFOD about my involvement with them (the team could hear the interview from where they were in the line as well, I had to talk quite loudly into a Dictaphone!) Once we arrived and had eaten, my next challenge was face painting. Those of you who know me well will be laughing about this I know. But we aren’t talking animals, I was painting the IF logo. So much easier than what it could’ve been! The highlight of the afternoon for me was seeing Ian dressed as a loaf of bread CAFOD mascot! At the very end, we managed to get down to the very front by the stage. The videos were emotional, but we were also able to be part of the celebrations at the end with photographs. That’s not the end though, keep finding out about the campaign because it definitely affects more people and more communities than you may realise!

Our next big event was Lourdes Leaders weekend, coinciding with my 25th birthday. The day before, I had enjoyed a performance of Viva Forever with Mum in London and a meal at ASK with Mum and Dad, which was wonderful. The day itself, I took great pains to announce to everyone I wasn’t officially 25 until 14:04, something which never really bothered me up until then. I definitely blame the team for all their wind ups during the year. I was very nervous that day, there seemed to be a lot of people I didn’t know, but there were also a lot of people from Easter Lourdes to catch up with! Saturday involved getting to know your groups, Sunday was for first time leaders, where I led morning prayer for the others. I was very surprised to find I had been placed with Year 13s as a leader, the service group for the week who are known as The Sopranos! This means Joe and Sean from next year’s team are both in my small group, but they seem pretty pleased about that, thankfully! After all the training was completed, we travelled to Billericay for the meeting with parents. One of the topics on the agenda was the recent flooding in Lourdes. This has meant that the hotels we normally use are closed, but it looks like we’ve found some excellent alternatives. The clean up operation has been phenomenal. The baths have been re-opened and the underground basilica might be available too, two things we thought impossible initially. So it’s all looking up as we head off in 4 days! Can’t believe it’s come round so quick.

The final event was the Bradwell pilgrimage last weekend. This was an opportunity to re-engage with some of our Year 9 Ambassadors who joined the day. After the two mile walk, we sat with Bishop Thomas to eat lunch and then provided arts and crafts activities for the children and young people. Some of us even spoke in the service, reading out faith statements. At the end of the day, we visited the small but wonderful chapel, the oldest in the UK, and definitely experienced some peace.

Community wise, birthdays have been taking over the social calendar. Mine was amazing. The team and Sophie were there for a world themed dinner, based on my visit to Seville. Joe’s paella was amazing and Jon made the most impressive cake (this was cake 3, having been surprised by Aisling and Olive on my birthday with a chocolate cake and Mum making and icing a pineapple and cherry cake for me). I did share them all, don’t worry! We then had a quiz, including a Colin Firth round, which was harder than it looked. But we played our joker and won the round. Full marks in the CAFOD round, courtesy of the many social justice sessions and Olivia’s input helped us do very well in the NOW Music round too. The Stansted round was, of course, about the airport and my personalised bracelet even had an aeroplane charm! The final round was a things Katharine said round, mostly focussing on bizarre conversations or funny tweets. We finished with a time of prayer and praise of worship, what was a wonderful evening. Jade’s birthday party the other night was Les Mis themed. We dined on French food, sang (or perhaps that’s too generous) Can you Hear the People Sing and then finished with a prayer which made Jade weep. Because it was lovely, not mean of course! Our next celebration is tonight with Joe’s birthday, but I won’t say too much in case the birthday boy is reading!

Aside from all this excitement, my MA studies and applications have been ongoing. I completed a presentation the other week and was delighted with the result. I then had two more essays, but it paid off. Having received a letter saying I am clear to progress to the next year, I am now just waiting for the marks. Looking forward to choosing my optional modules for next year. As yet, applications haven’t brought me any jobs, but have provided interview experience. This means I am still uncertain what will happen next, but continue to plug away at applications, so fingers crossed! Most of the team are all set for next year, which brings us to the week which in September seemed inconceivable. That is exit week. The week of excitement, anticipation and dread all in one. This started earlier than normal last week, as Aish left Walsingham House to begin her pilgrimage to World Youth Day. She is in Sao Paulo at the moment, working in the slums, before travelling to Rio for the main celebration. Please keep her in your prayers. We really do miss her and I’m not the only one finding this week exceedingly strange without her. Our rooms are now all clear and clean, as is Walsingham House. I feel like a guest in my own room at the moment, and I only have 2 sleeps left here. Despite the nearing end to the year, we are taking the opportunity to spend more time with each other. As we are in the middle of it, it doesn’t seem right to give too much detail about the week just yet.

This is another odd feeling, that apart from reporting on Exit Week and Summer Lourdes pilgrimage, this will soon mark the end for the this blog. I’m undecided whether I will begin another. But the end isn’t happening just yet. Do keep reading, and thank you for bearing with this long post once again!

Take care
Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A shorter blog than usual, a 10 mile walk and a true Brentwood Blue celebration

Hi everyone!

Hope you are all well.Thank you for your patience with the lack of blog, and for those of you wondering whether I had forgotten or given up, absolutely not! I will attempt to re-cap in as few words as I can without missing out important details. But knowing that previous blogs have been quite lengthy, I’ve decided to try and split the term over two slightly shorter posts (hopefully, but I won’t make any promises!)

The beginning of term crept up on me before I had fully recovered from Lourdes Blues. It was strange being back in the house knowing there was only a term left. But the retreats continued as normal, with some great groups coming to experience Walsingham House. The first weekend of the term was sunny, and resulted in me being brave and stepping out of my comfort zone, much to the surprise of my housemates. Perhaps more a result of essay procrastination and the sunny weather giving me motivation rather than my natural abilities, I spent the morning making cookies. It was all going well until a lack of two crucial ingredients (cherries and flour in fact) sent me rushing to Sainsbury’s for supplies. Despite having much longer in the oven than the recipe said, they turned out pretty well. If you’d like any evidence, ask my housemates – they definitely ate quite a few of them very quickly!

The second week of term saw me visit SPEC for a night. SPEC is the retreat centre for Westminster Diocese, and I was offered the opportunity to join the community and help with a confirmation retreat. I was definitely impressed with the prayer times and worship – adoration is a big feature of life at SPEC and a type of prayer I particularly enjoy, as you’ll know if you’ve read previous posts. To experience a new setting and see the similarities and differences between the centres was really interesting. I was even able to share some of my Easter Lourdes experience and play amoeba tag with the group outside. It definitely helped me to see how another centre worked and, like the conference in January, reminded me that we are part of a wider team all working towards the same goal.

Although confirmation retreats have now stopped, we had two in May. It was great fun and gave us the opportunity to work with Leila and Ryan, two of next year’s team. It’s always great having visitors in the house and share our enthusiasm with them. My final confirmation retreat was a very surreal experience. The group from Canning Town were amazing and I really enjoyed every minute (especially the talent show). The whole team agreed they should do something similar as a fundraiser, because people would definitely pay to watch! I also had the opportunity to teach a signed song to a group for Mass. This was something I’d always wanted to do, and was really happy when they each gave a great performance and also spelt their name using the BSL alphabet. I commend them for understanding the signs, as I don’t think learning from a left hander is particularly easy!

The following weekend marked a new BCYS retreat. Ambassadors Weekend was an opportunity for Year 9s to take more of an active role in the youth service and be an advocate within their school communities. The highlight of the weekend was a trip to London in the form of a treasure hunt. There were plenty of clues and answers to find, and also an additional challenge to take photos of the day. We did pretty well, covering the Westminster area of London and having the chance to lunch by the London Eye. A group of friends playing duck, duck, goose nearby caught our attention, but we weren’t brave enough to join in or spoil their game (depending which way you look at it!) We were slightly waylaid in our walk by bubbles (yes, that’s right, the BCYS made bubbles) and also collected a number of placards left around or given to us by those people marching to save the NHS. The challenge to include a placard in each subsequent photo was duly accepted, and I think we managed pretty well! After a tiring day, we watched Eurovision, watching, cringing and voting over the first half. During the second half, I managed to interest my group in a spontaneous rendition of the Macarena. To every song. I thought it went pretty well actually. The following day, we looked at promotional material and gave our own ideas to help promote the annual Youth Gather event.

The following weekend was another change in timetable, as we hosted the fifth annual Walsingham Walk. Accompanied by some dedicated future team and young people from Basildon parish, we braved the 10 mile hike to Leigh-on-Sea and back. Michael and Jade met us with the car at relevant points to provide doughnuts, lunch and ice pops to keep energy levels up. It was great to talk with the young people and also spend time with each other as a team. A highlight for Joe and I was the banana ice cream we had during our lunch break, a low point was the insane sunburn I acquired. I’m fairly sure you could still see me when it was pitch black! Having completed the walk in one piece, we moved onto our Safari BBQ, trying shark, kangaroo and in some cases (but I definitely didn’t try this) python. More guests joined us for this celebration and it was a great opportunity to relax and be sociable.

The next day was a real Brentwood Blue celebration. We joined many other members of BCYS, past, present and their families, to celebrate over 30 years of the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service. It was a great turnout, and I was surprised to realise I knew more people than I thought. Some catechists, teachers and young people from retreats were there, and it was a great opportunity to catch up. The Walsingham House team performed “All Who are Thirsty” in the cathedral. Yes, I probably looked nervous, but this performance went much better for me than our first outing in September. Other celebrations at the Cathedral include, of course, monthly Youth Mass and a Year of Faith Mass. This was truly brilliant, seeing 17 of the 18 Catholic schools in the diocese come together and celebrate. Students read bidding prayers, helped with the offertory procession and were very enthusiastic. I was delighted to see Matthew joining the St Mark’s contingent for the day and recognised a good many faces, even if I couldn’t put names to all of them. For both the Masses, I had helped write some bidding prayers with Aish and enjoyed being able to contribute to the celebrations.

Community wise, we have made the most of the weather by having a few BBQs. We also celebrated Leighton’s birthday in true This is Your Life style. We wrote affirmations for him, tried a Leighton quiz, created a box full of goodies and had excellent presenting and organising by Olivia and Michael. A Despicable Me cookie cake, provided by Jade was definitely a hit. We also had one of our final community days before half term. The timetable was definitely building up, meaning that most Tuesdays were taken up with either day retreats, outreach or residentials. So we made the most of having Tuesdays to prepare and all welcomed the Half Term as an opportunity to prepare for the heavy workload ahead.

So, if you’re wondering whether the team survived the half term to come, whether the preparations for Summer Lourdes went to plan and whether everyone’s future will be decided by the end of the year, watch this space. I’ll get back to you soon! I’m sure you’re surprised at just how short this blog is, so I’ll do my best not to disappoint by leaving it too long…

Thanks for reading!
Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Braving the Baths, Trust Mass excitement and a Feast Day in Lourdes.

Hi everyone!

I hope you are all well and have had chance to read my previous blog posted earlier in the week. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to read this first, otherwise you may get slightly confused about our Lourdes itinerary. This promises to be another long entry, but please bear with me, it’s definitely worth the read.

Tuesday dawned, and, after a great breakfast, the group headed out of the hotel towards our first main duty of the week. Many of the group headed to the front of the baths, where Animation would take place. This involves music and prayers (typically the Rosary) to engage the queues of people waiting for the baths, and to attract the attention of other pilgrims. It is also transmitted into the baths themselves. The rest of us though, were heading inside the baths to assist the pilgrims with their personal faith experience, for some, the main reason they travelled to Lourdes. Whilst I was very aware of the privileged position I was in, I was also very nervous. Pilgrims may be bringing personal health  intentions, or intentions of other family members to the baths. Why should I, as a fellow pilgrim, be part of that? What if I make a mistake? Anyone who knows me will know I can be clumsy, this was a real worry. Jade had worked in the baths last year, and assured me I wasn’t the only one who felt like this. But my anxiety hadn’t completely vanished by the time we were ready in our aprons and being shown the ropes. It did look quite simple, but it involved real people, real experiences. A bell rang and we lined up to be allocated to a bath. The women’s baths had 10 in all, including a children’s bath. The volunteers spoke varying languages, so my other concern was my ability to communicate with both pilgrims and other volunteers. I needn’t have worried, as Jade and I thankfully ended up in the same bath. At least, if I wasn’t sure how to do something, I would understand Jade’s instructions and be able to ask her!

As we got going, I found my nerves calmed down. I was too busy to panic really. There were two duties allocated to me by Madame (the lady in charge). The first involved welcoming people into the baths. As they got themselves ready, I held a blue sheet/towel around them and wrapped them in it whilst they waited for their turn. Then, after their experience, I repeated the process whilst they changed back. The other duty was in the baths itself. Thankfully, as a helper, we didn’t go into the water. It was freezing! I’m not a fan of water either. As the pilgrims came in, they were greeted by a lady who stood at the end of the baths. They were invited to make their intentions to Mary, and then my role began. My job, along with another volunteer, was to secure the towel around each lady, and walk them safely through the baths. A bath consists of three steps and a walk through the water towards the statue of Mary. They are able to touch or kiss the statue if they like. Then they are invited to sit. If they choose to, they are asked to sit back, as if they are sitting in a chair. It’s not full immersion, and many people are, unsurprisingly, shocked by the temperature. If they choose not to sit, water is poured onto their hands. They then turn and walk back to the steps, whilst a short litany is said. This is a request for saints to pray for us for example “Our Lady of Lourdes” response “pray for us”. I was surprised after a while, that I felt more comfortable as time went on, and was even able to explain and lead the process with English pilgrims. The gratitude on the faces of each person was overwhelming, and I was truly humbled to be part of the experience. At the end of the shift, I felt a mixture of emotions. I was impressed I had managed, and also touched by the opportunity to be present with the people in their unique experience.

After lunch (which was definitely needed after a busy morning) we headed to the Notre Dame chapel for the Regional Mass. This was an opportunity to meet with the other groups from our “Met East” region. This was my first experience of an HCPT Mass, and was truly wonderful. The children were so excited, the music was brilliant, Fr James gave an excellent Homily and the groups created and delivered some fantastic bidding prayers and interpretations of the Gospel (including a Gangnam Style song!) I welcomed each group as they came into the chapel and felt like I was part of a very large and exceptionally colourful retreat. The excitement and the singing was amazing, and definitely helped me to understand the magic of Lourdes and HCPT. This was even more evident during the evening when, despite the rain, all 5,000 HCPT pilgrims and more people besides, joined together for the Torchlight Procession. The candles looked beautiful, and behind each one, a genuine smile :) Marshalling the parade was great, but I can’t wait to take part in the Summer!

Wednesday was a beautiful day. Unlike Tuesday, when my trainers squelched as I spent quiet time submitting prayer intentions and lighting candles at the grotto, the sun came out to make Lourdes seem even more amazing. Roisin, Leighton, Sarah and I headed out on a tour in the morning. We visited 3 buildings at the heart of the Lourdes story; St Bernadette’s Parish Church, the Boly Mill and the Cachot. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Lourdes, here is a brief summary.

Bernadette Soubrious was born in Lourdes, the oldest of 5 children and daughter of a miller. They lived at the Boly Mill, until the family fell on hard times. At this point, they were reduced to living in the Cachot, a prison like, simple building. For a while, Bernadette lived with a foster family, returning to Lourdes to begin preparations for her First Communion. On 11th February 1858, Mary appears to Bernadette where the Grotto now stands. She asks her to tell the priests and Bishops to build a shrine. They initially don’t believe her. 18 appearances in total occurred, and Bernadette was instructed to dig a well. Her Parish Priest believed her only when she delivered a message from Mary stating “I am the Immaculate Conception”. An uneducated girl such as Bernadette would never have made this up! A statue of the priest outside her Parish Church commemorates the support he gave Bernadette, who was later educated and supported by the Bishop, leading to the Lourdes we now know. Despite this, Bernadette entered into a convent and chose not to return to Lourdes. As well as these three buildings, we also visited a museum, which was amazing. You can probably see my photos if you’re my friend on facebook!

The afternoon was spent in the Playbase. Groups booked into the Playbase to take part in some Arts and Crafts, face painting and games. We had two or three groups in during the afternoon, and TBG were soon busy painting faces and playing games. I had a great afternoon with a girl called Hannah from Group 134. We built a tower out of hedgehog shapes and made a bracelet. We spent over an hour together, and she remembered me the next day when I greeted her outside Trust Mass. I was so pleased that she allowed me to spend time with her and that some simple activities had made her so happy.

Wednesday evening was a reconciliation service with St John Payne students who were also a service group for the week. Michael, Leighton and Jade set up some amazing prayer stations, and there was a real sense of peace. I felt the need to go to the grotto and also to experience the baths (which I did on the last day). The Grotto did look truly beautiful in the darkness, the candles shining on the statue of Mary and, once again, adding to the Lourdes magic.

Trust Mass, the highlight of the week, was next on the agenda. After an early start on Thursday morning, we were soon greeting hundreds of groups as they entered the Underground Basilica. Sarah and I also greeted Bishop John as he arrived to prepare for Mass. The Mass was, once again, colourful. Full of song and happiness. It was amazing, looking round and seeing 5,000+ people joining together as one huge team, to celebrate HCPT. We had an amazing speech from HCPT’s founder Br Michael. He thanked us for being together and being part of the week, when really, we should have been thanking him. After all, he began HCPT and without him, we wouldn’t be there. The end of the Mass was my favourite part. Not because Mass had finished! But because the party had only just begun. All the marshalls stood around the front of the altar to join in with the final hymns. Rise and Shine, the official HCPT song, ended the celebrations. I think I might have got the hand of quite a lot of the sign language, thank goodness! Later in the afternoon, a slightly different, reverent atmosphere descended upon the Underground Basilica. Due to the rain, the Blessed Sacrament Procession happened indoors under shelter. Our boys were snapped up to take part in the procession, complete with albs, whilst the girls watched in awe and appreciation of this special time. Those of you who have read previous blogs will know I find Adoration a very powerful form of prayer. Here, in Lourdes, is definitely no exception. What a beautiful experience.

The atmosphere changed again in the evening, as we all dressed up for our Regional Party. Dressed as Mary Poppins, I helped to set up the room, hanging decorations and welcoming children in. Chris did an amazing job of  being DJ, and many of the groups said they had enjoyed it. So it was definitely an evening well spent! I also achieved one of my childhood goals – successfully dancing to Saturday Night with all the correct moves!

Another opportunity to spend time with a regional group came the next afternoon, when Michael, Matt and I took some indoor games to a group in their hotel. We had a brilliant time playing Jenga, Connect Four and teaching the boys how to play SNAP! That evening, Matt, Paul and I babysat for a group. It was a great chance to get to know some of the leaders and find out what their week was like. I also had another shift in the baths, which was much better than the first. I felt far more confident this time around, and having two volunteers who also spoke English certainly helped. Emotions were running high in the baths during Friday morning though, so it was definitely humbling but also quite emotional. Eujanie came to the baths too, and gave me quite a shock when she grabbed my hand coming out of the baths because of the cold! Saturday morning was my turn. I had been taking part in Animation before, but was fast tracked into the baths. I could hear the prayers and the hymns, following the Rosary as I waited. But as soon as I entered the baths, I had no recollection of it. I don’t even necessarily remember turning round and walking out after being sat briefly in the water. I was too caught up in the peace, the amazing faith experience and concentrating on my intentions. Exiting the baths, I was (unfortunately) in time for Michael’s rendition of Shine Jesus Shine. Michael’s strengths certainly lie in impressions, not singing into a microphone! The security staff outside the baths were certainly less than impressed! Our Animation session ended fairly abruptly after this! I personally said 2 decades of the Rosary in English over the mic, Jade did some brilliant Italian, Aish some Latin and Michael, French. We truly were a multilingual group! I finished the session with a Litany. I was particularly proud to include St Juliana. She was my confirmation saint, and also my Nana’s confirmation Saint after getting to know a Sr Juliana well during her convent school days. 6th April, as well as being my Mum and Dad’s anniversary, is also St Juliana’s feast day. St Juliana is also responsible for the Feast of Corpus Christi and was very devoted to Adoration too.

We headed to the crypt for our final Mass, along with Group 707. Fr Stephen offered us an amazing opportunity at the end. We anointed each of us with the Oil of Chrism. This happened during my confirmation back in 2002, when I was confirmed as Juliana. Like that day, I knew Nana would have been watching this amazing moment in St Anne’s chapel, Lourdes. We were challenged to go out as apostles, rather than disciples. Would we share our faith readily, or would our Lourdes experience be one of the last things people know about us? As I’m sure you know, I am excited to share my experience with family and friends, and can’t wait to use it on retreat too! Our final time together in Lourdes as a group included lighting a group candle at the grotto and saying 3 Hail Mary’s by the Crown Virgin statue (this is tradition and means you will return again to Lourdes).

With this thought in mind, we headed to Lourdes station to begin our final duties. Baggage handling was first on the agenda, but, as always, TBG took it in their stride and did a wonderful job. One of the more challenging duties was to distribute 600 meals on the train! As you can imagine, the journey isn’t exactly smooth and the boxes were fairly heavy. I enlisted the help of one of the other volunteers on the train, walking up and down hoping someone would want a vegetarian meal. We did hand out a few thankfully. Dominique and I then headed back to our carriage, another challenge as my arm kept being caught under door handles. Thankfully, Michael and Joe turned up in time to help, but I did have quite a painful bruise to show for it! Overnight, we continued our journey to Calais, I was once again safely inside a soft play area. On arrival at Calais, a 45 minute record was set as we unloaded luggage very quickly indeed. After a ferry crossing, we arrived at Thurrock services and I headed back to Stansted, exhausted but very happy.

It was a wonderful experience. Truly humbling, truly spiritual, truly magical. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with me. If you would like to hear any more, let me know. I’ll be delighted to share more! Anyone from my Parish is welcome to Sunday’s Children’s Liturgy, where the children will get to hear (a seriously shortened version) of this experience.

Finally, thank you to Grandma and Grandad, for the opportunity to go to Lourdes, and to Jack Petchey for funding much of the pilgrimage. Grandma, I remembered you in Lourdes, and Grandad, I can’t wait to show you the photos!

Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ladies that lunch, the end of another term and my first Lourdes pilgrimage (part one).

Hi everyone!

I hope you are all well and have enjoyed/are still enjoying an Easter break.

As you can see from the title of this blog, the post certainly has the potential to be a long one. After all, it covers a couple of weeks and then an entire week of Lourdes experiences. I might spread the Lourdes out over a couple of blogs to avoid readers getting eye strain from the excessive word count! But first, there is a term to finish.

After the excitement of Pope Francis’ election, there was certainly an air of excitement around the house for a few days, if not a week afterwards. Each day, morning prayer included an intention to the new Pope, encouraging him in his new role as head of the Church and successor to Peter. Conversations at retreats and around our dining room table were enthusiastic. There was certainly admiration for Pope Francis’ simplicity of faith, his determination to reach the minorities and provide “a Church on the streets”. This made me think even more about our role. Whether on outreach or leading in-house retreats, we do form a part of the Church on the streets. How can the new Pope inspire us? We were soon to find out, with his first address to young people enthusing about their role in the Church and creating excitement about World Youth Day. This, perhaps, had a profound effect on Aish, who went from disappointment that the Pope visiting Rio wouldn’t be Benedict, to excitement at seeing Pope Francis and experiencing his mission for the Church first hand. I have to admit, I have taken a lot of personal interest in these developments, and even have The Pope App on my iPad!

Retreats before Easter were excellent once again. I had an amazing opportunity the other week – the chance to lead different prayer sessions during a weekend. In addition to sharing the social justice/CAFOD session with Leighton, I led morning prayer and also quiet time. This was something I had wanted to lead for a while, and so I was delighted to finally have the chance. Many of my prayers that weekend included music, and so I felt as though the majority of my Christian Music collection was over in Walsingham House for a couple of days. I was truly astounded when the catechists wrote that my morning prayer was one of the highlights of the weekend and that the young people also engaged with the stories. What an amazing reaction to have. The other half of the team were in Gateshead for the CYMFED conference, and I have to confess to being a bit gutted when they all returned to the house with CAFOD hoodies!

The next day, we were up early to visit St John Payne in Chelmsford for outreach with Year 12. About 100 young people filled the hall for the retreat, I experienced the biggest retreat so far this year. It was great to find out what the school does and also to find some photos of Leighton with long hair! I was also a minister at Mass, but had to drink most of the wine myself when only 2 students received from my chalice. This was definitely a challenge! The last weekend before Easter saw Holy Cross in Harlow and St Edward’s in Romford visit the House, accompanied by Mr Ollie Fuller our honorary team member. My group were brilliant fun, and I could definitely see a couple of potential team members amongst the boys. I had the Harlow girls in my group, and was surprised to find out they all knew Elaine and her family. We also had an interesting discussion about Pets Corner and other Harlow attractions, something I didn’t think would ever happen on retreat! In the last week of term, we had two more great day retreats, a Year 9 and a Year 6 group. My first Year 6 retreat was great fun, as I hadn’t worked with that age group for a while. However, I definitely need to master the game “Grand National” for the next one!

Aside from the retreats, I’ve had a busy time. On 21st March, Olivia and I headed into London for her long awaited birthday surprise. I cracked a few days early and told her about our visit to the V&A (where we spent quite a while in the jewellery and fashion sections, before playing a game of “Guess the Price” in the gift shop.  I’m not entirely sure Idriss approved of this!) We have matching rings as souvenirs, and I also managed to spot the name of one of her favourite jewellery designers.I did, however, manage to keep the afternoon tea a secret until we were on the train. Olivia’s reaction was brilliant and made me smile a lot! She had no idea either, so thanks team for keeping it a secret. The hotel was absolutely amazing, the tea was wonderful, but we were so full afterwards it was difficult to walk the 3 minutes to the tube.

On 26th, parents and friends came together again to celebrate the end of term with a meal. Mum provided her wonderful fruit salad, and other team members did a brilliant job of the other courses. Around the table, Aiden provided some entertainment for all, and there was also real surprise that the end of term 2 had come so quickly. Especially for those of us heading to Lourdes on Easter Sunday (I bet you wondered when I was going to mention it, didn’t you?) I had mixed emotions as I packed for the week away – despite seeing many photos and hearing many accounts, I was unsure how I imagined Lourdes. My main concern though, as we left Thurrock services, was whether I would manage to sleep at all on the train between Calais and Lourdes. I needn’t have worried. After a drive to Dover and ferry crossing to Calais, our first service of the pilgrimage commenced. Our wonderful Group 709 (famous TBG) donned our fluorescent clothing and began to transfer 500 bags from group coaches to the train. The 19 of us were assisted by the brilliant Salesian Old Boys (Group 707) and soon had an effective system going. Despite the late arrival of the train, we completed our task successfully in plenty of time and were soon aboard the train, where my next surprise awaited. I’m not sure what I expected, but definitely not the prospect of a bed for the night, complete with pillow and sleeping bag! We were definitely being treated well. Exhaustion truly set in, and I found myself drifting in and out of sleep quite early. In the end, despite waking every now and then to change position, I had a pretty good night. Thankfully, I had a net in between me and the end of the bed, and I was very relieved that others knew how to put these up and take these down, otherwise I might still be there now! Aish described this as my “soft play centre” and I can see what she meant – if I’d had everything I needed, I could have created my very own ball pit on the train.

The next morning, we stopped at Toulouse. Our next duty was to speak to group leaders about numbers in their group, so that lunches could be provided. Although quite cold, I enjoyed standing and talking to the group leaders on the platform, getting an idea of their plans for the week. An entertaining April Fool’s joke, believed by Fr James and Matt (and possibly a few more of us too if we were honest), kept spirits high, and after a couple more hours, we were in Lourdes. 1:45pm on Monday 1st April. Here, we unloaded the train, watched the groups rushing around in their colours before boarding coaches to their hotels. We arrived at our Hotel, St Contard, about 2pm and spent some time unpacking before heading out for a tour. This was my first experience of Lourdes and, as predicted by the team who visited last Easter, the rain soon joined our tour. I was amazed at the array of shops on the way to the Domaine, and excitement grew. My first sight was the Basilica  aptly named the Disney castle, as it does look similar from a distance. I look round, expecting to see the Grotto and Underground Basilica in a triangle. Instead, the Underground Basilica was off to one side, the Crown Virgin statue was in the middle and the Grotto was nowhere in sight. Intrigued, I followed the others. Round the corner, near candles and between the basilica and the baths, there it was. The beautiful Grotto. Wow. We walked round the Grotto, which wasn’t as deep as I had imagined, but still amazing. We walked over the bridge and took in these sacred sights, before a group Mass in the Kolbe chapel. I was blown away by my first sight of Lourdes, and wasn’t sure how to express it to the others. I can now understand why it is so difficult to describe the Lourdes experience to those who have never been, although I can assure you I’ve tried my best.

On our way back to the hotel, we also paid a visit to the HCPT shop and stopped at the playbase, where we would be working later in the week. The first day wasn’t over yet! After dinner, we headed out to marshal for the first time that week in our HCPT tabbards. The concert was a sing-along to Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I remembered a lot of the songs from a Year 5 performance, so really enjoyed singing along with the groups. We definitely attracted attention though, as we were dressed as Grannies ready for our social evening. Holly, Dominique, Sarah, Lucy and I were the inflatable walking stick gang, whilst Nick’s costume attracted the most attention. It was pretty brilliant. I also discovered I looked quite good in my grey wig, although this isn’t a look I want to test out any time soon. After heading to the Jeanne d’Arc, TBG’s regular Lourdes hangout, I headed back to the hotel to prepare for the next day, my first full day of service in Lourdes.

Which is where I will leave this blog for now. So, if you want to find out how I got on working in the baths, discover what HCPT Masses at Lourdes are really like and why Michael should never be allowed to sing into a microphone, don’t miss the next post, coming soon!

Thanks for reading!

Katharine xxxxxxx

A bit of a break, more retreats and being part of history.

Hi everyone!

I hope everyone is well :) You will have noticed that it is exactly a month since my last blog, which is probably the longest time ever without an update. One of those four weeks was actually half term, and the last few weeks have been pretty busy (as standard at Walsingham House of course!) You may have also noticed I changed the layout of the blog page. I just thought, halfway through the year, that change would be good.

Change. Quite an exciting, but at the same time, scary word. This has been dominating life at both the White House and Walsingham House for the last few weeks. Members of the team are starting to set themselves up for new opportunities from September, whilst others (myself included) continue to consider our options. Considering that this time last year I was waiting to hear if I had a place on the team, and two years ago I hadn’t yet begun to research Youth Work courses, which basically set up this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the end outcome is once again a bit of a surprise. Last Tuesday, Michael and Olivia received the news they were waiting for. Michael had been appointed to take over as Director from September. This is the first part of history mentioned in this blog, as team members set up their next chapter. Olivia secured her place at university for September, after showing her potential at interview in London. Meanwhile, the rest of us are still searching, and supporting each other to give anything a try. Despite the celebratory atmosphere, I can’t help but be racked by nerves and uncertainty about what is to come. I know for a fact I am not alone in this, as the majority of the Catholic Church are probably also experiencing similar emotions waiting to discover the colour of smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel chimney.

Changes in the weather have also affected us in the last week or so. Just last Tuesday (nicknamed Celebration Tuesday) the team headed to the beach in bright sunshine. On Monday I returned to Canvey to discover plenty of snow and freezing conditions had set in. It seemed that Canvey Island had been blessed (perhaps?) with the majority of snow in this part of Essex. Southend down the road was apparently bright sunshine! Snow was still around in large quantities yesterday, although a community meeting or indeed community night in the snow never materialised. I’m quite glad about this, I don’t cope well with Arctic temperatures.

Before Half Term, Walsingham House hosted an Open Retreat entitled “Mystery Weekend”.  It was a great weekend, and the eight girls who attended certainly made up the numbers in enthusiasm. This was the first retreat I hadn’t led a small group, and although it felt strange at first, I enjoyed leading workshops and attending Jade’s night prayer as a visitor. I was particularly proud of my Trinity workshop, after all the drama the essay has caused. I was able to share some knowledge on the very confusing subject, whilst also reassuring them they didn’t need to worry about knowing all the answers themselves (something I had forgotten when writing my essay!) Thankfully, passing the essay proved that some of the workshop had made sense! Other highlights of the retreat included a girls night in, watching Wild Child with snacks, pyjamas and dressing gowns. Ian and Jon were less than impressed with the choice of entertainment, but were seriously outnumbered. Girl power reigned in the Ark that evening, although I was disappointed not to share in the Rice Krispie cakes which were being created. The no chocolate challenge has proved even more difficult than first thought, with cheesecake, birthday cake, brownies and ice cream of the chocolate variety being a prominent feature. Most of the time, Ian is able to empathise. On Sundays however, I find myself very much alone and have to resort to additional self control. Thankfully, Mum saved the day on Monday by presenting me with 4 cookies (which have now all gone)!

My other Lenten challenges seem to be proving successful. My Lenten reading about the Gospel of Luke is very interesting, although I find myself sometimes playing catch up with a couple of days at a time. This can mean I don’t use the opportunity for reflection to its full advantage, but I’m definitely giving it a good go. Daily prayers using the Office are, once again, becoming an integral part of my day. Whether once, twice or three times, I always make time for least one of the prayers. This again shows the power of community, as praying together at the beginning and end of the day gives me a focus and a real sense of team work is instilled for the day. The Office also plays a regular part in train journeys to and from London or Stansted, although it is quite heavy in my handbag. Although I think that’s the point in the first place, right?

We’ve had some good retreats recently. One of the key sessions has been a session called Conclave (definitely current, although not something we can use any more – as you’ll know if you were following the events of the last 24 hours!)  The team created 12 fictional cardinals and their biographies. The young people use this information to elect a pope. We first show a video about how a Pope is elected, and finish off by talking through the biographies. Although fictional cardinals, they were based on Saints or profiles of existing cardinals. The session has provoked some interesting discussions about the role of a Pope and who would be best. We have kept voting until we reach a 2/3 majority, as the cardinals did in this week’s conclave. Another piece of history was created last Thursday morning. Most of the team left Canvey before 7am to travel to St Mark’s in Harlow (I tried not to think about the lie-in I could have had if I’d travelled from Stansted!) This was set to be the first EVER outreach at the school. Despite motorway traffic trying to get the better of us, we arrived in time to begin the retreat with the Liturgy Group, a new project within the school community. The pupils ranged from Year 7 – 13, and Ian and I had the older age group. I really enjoyed chatting with one of the young people about their experience on the local Youth Council, as it reminded me of my time on the Young Essex Assembly and Uttlesford Youth Forum. I was really impressed by the school chapel and the group were brilliant. I was slightly shocked by the timetable though – lunch time wasn’t until 1:30! Remembering the days I spent at Herts and Essex, desperate for dinner by 1:20, I can definitely empathise with a lot of the students. But, from what I saw, I think St Mark’s has a more substantial range of break time snacks than we did. Having a visit from Matthew, Elaine’s son, at break time was another highlight of the day, as I hadn’t seen him for a long time. The retreat ended positively, with the school keen to develop links with both BCYS and Walsingham House.

As a community, we celebrated Jon’s birthday on the first Tuesday back. Spicy chicken was cooked by Michael and accompanied (for the crazy members of the team) by very very hot sauce. Having attempted the cinnamon challenge last term, Ian was keen to add another achievement to the list. However, both he and Olivia ended up suffering quite a bit and drinking a LOT of milk between them. This Tuesday, Tanya from CAFOD visited us again to discuss new session ideas with us and share some resources and ideas. It was great to see her, as my last visit to the office happened when she was out of the office. One of the activities involved making soda bread. In case you wondering how my group’s one tasted, I’m not actually sure!

Speaking of CAFOD, next week is an important week for me. Why I hear you ask? Well, my newsletter will finally be published to those on the Great Generation newsletter list. As a result of a technological error, my January edition wasn’t sent out. Another session at the office (with a piece of Roisin’s lovely cake) enabled me to edit the stories and blog. Look out for more information on this blog, you may even have a sneak preview of some of the newsletter content…

I began to write this blog yesterday (Wednesday 13th March). The last month or so have been a bit of a whirlwind, as you can imagine working in a Catholic retreat centre. On the day Pope Benedict XVI resigned, Aish, Jade and I visited St Patrick’s Church in Soho for holy hour (Adoration) and a Mass of Thanksgiving for his papacy. There was a brilliant homily and an opportunity to pray for the Church’s future. A couple of uncertain weeks followed, before conclave started this week. On Tuesday, Fr James spent the catechesis session talking us through the conclave process and discussing some of the cardinals. I’ve found myself reading as many articles as I can about the conclave, whilst also being really pleased that people from different denominations and perhaps no religious background at all have been able to share in our excitement. After all, Pope Benedict XVI worked very hard during his papacy to improve relations with other faiths, so it’s only right they should share in the celebrations. Yesterday lunchtime I joined Michael, Jade, Leighton and Aisling for Chinese at Aroma in Basildon. Afterwards, Leighton, Aish and I headed to the cinema to see the new Oz movie. It was brilliant, and definitely worth the watch. I remember asking the others what they would do if we left the cinema to find out we had a new Pope.  As we left the cinema, there was no update. Heading back to the White House, there was a temporary panic when Leighton thought he’d washed his iPod in the machine until he realised he was, in fact sitting on it. Standard day in the White House. What happened next was the standard response to good news in this house:

Me (refreshing twitter) LEIGHTON LEIGHTON, WHITE SMOKE! WHITE SMOKE! WE HAVE A POPE!

Leighton: what????

After a few seconds of staring at the laptop in disbelief, Leighton makes the executive decision that we should go downstairs to turn on the TV. Which had difficulties of its own. How do we turn the TV on in such a hurry? One technophobe and one scatty team member stood in front of the TV pointing the control desperately, hoping the TV would work… It wasn’t as if we could turn the TV off and back on again, it wasn’t on to begin with! Eventually, it did turn on. Did it reveal a Pope? No. Not for a good while. After phoning and texting family and friends, we sat anxiously on the edge of our seats with identical poses. It would have been a great photo opportunity, except everyone else was either out or working. Our wait was worth it, as the new Pope was announced to the world. The news resulted in staring, once again, at a screen in utter disbelief. The first Argentinian Pope, the first Jesuit Pope, AND the first Pope to be known as Francis? What? My first thought was for Daniel, Elaine’s middle son. I had the honour of being his sponsor in 2009 when he was confirmed under the name Francis, after St Francis of Assisi. Now, the Pope had chosen the same name. I couldn’t help but feel very proud he shared his special name with our new Pope. His first appearance, speech and blessing were an honour to be part of, especially when he asked us to pray for him. His speech definitely made me think, in particular one quote. Excuse me whilst I share a couple of my thoughts.

St Francis told everyone that the world should set off on the path of love. Yes, we should. This speech was a great reminder of our duty to love and care for others. That we are all equally special and we have our own gifts to share. We should share our faith with others and make our faith part of our daily lives and do it courageously, but with simplicity. This reminds me of a discussion I had with a young person recently about prayer. Complicated words don’t matter, it’s the prayer itself that matters. The same can be said about our interactions with others. It’s the simple things which are remembered and mean so much. This is a really positive start, and I’m looking forward to finding out about his first Homily, which is happening now. I think this will be a positive change for the Church, and a good lesson to everyone. If the Church is experiencing massive change, making history, right at the top, then surely we can do it too?  ( I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this turns up in a retreat prayer session soon!)

I also noticed he was wearing glasses when he appeared on the balcony. So to anyone who was or is being bullied for wearing glasses, the Pope wears them too!

So there you have it, history in the making. It wouldn’t be right to finish the blog by mentioning one more piece of history. We had our pre-trip meeting for Lourdes on Sunday. In just over 2 weeks I will be heading to Lourdes for the first time. My first pilgrimage to a major pilgrimage site, my first visit to Lourdes and visit to the baths (which is making me slightly nervous). I am very excited, but struggling to think of fancy dress ideas. I need two: Disney for the children’s party and Grannies for the group party. Any suggestions would be most welcome, as I’m panicking I won’t have enough time to sort everything out. So, no doubt, the next detailed blog will be Lourdes related. I’m looking forward to updating you all!

Thanks for reading!

Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx