It's been quite a while since my last post, as I've been on holiday from Preston – too busy having a good time to set down words of wisdom on my blog. So before getting down to serious business again, I just want to briefly explain where I've been this past month. It'll give me the opportunity to share some of the good things going on in the Church and the world.
First of all, I spent a week in the lovely city of Coventry, my home town. It was a good time to wind down a little and catch up with family and friends. Friars not being a familiar sight in Coventry, however, I had some interesting encounters with strangers - including a pleasant and in-depth conversation with a couple of Sikhs walking round the Memorial Park. I also got a sneak peek at the newly-renovated St. Osburg's Church, and learnt of how a couple of medieval alabaster altar-pieces have been incorporated into the new altar.
Next on my itinerary was Chapter of Mats – not the original gathering of St. Francis and his friars, nor yet the 800th anniversary celebration in Assisi I was lucky enough to attend, but the annual get-together of the Maltfriscans. Highlights of the customarily boisterous week included excellent talks by Ant Towey and Fr. Mark Crisp, a moving drama of the history of salvation from the young 'Friscans, street evangelisation in St. Alban's (with a last-minute flash mob tacked on), and a making of some 'Rocky Road' as an illustration of the Christian life.
As if that wasn't enough, I went on to another charismatic Catholic event – the New Dawn conference at Walsingham. This was considerably larger than Chapter of Mats – the Maltfriscan gathering numbered about 150 people, whereas New Dawn garnered about 3000. The main practical difference this made to me was that more time was spent hearing confessions. But it was very encouraging to see such a large number of Catholics setting aside a whole week to praise God and listen to His Word. Needless to say, there were plenty of good speakers and preachers. I also enjoyed getting to spend time with my sister and her little family, who were also there for the week. Some amusement was caused by the occasional sight of me walking along with a toddler or two hanging onto my cord.
I then got together with the rest of my family for a lovely week in the Lake District, where we stayed in a holiday cottage on the edge of Keswick. The cottage was at the gates of the diocesan youth centre, so there was a ready chapel (in what used to be the stables, appropriately enough) for me to celebrate Mass. Other highlights were paddling a canoe across Derwent Water with my brother Simon, while some others of the family kayaked along, and walking the Coledale Horseshoe with my Dad and my brother Aidan.
Finally, after having been back in Preston for most of a week, I took another couple of nights away for my Dad's 60th birthday celebrations. On this occasion I got down to Coventry and back by hitch-hiking. Yes, I'm glad to report that there are still some people who'll pick up hitch-hikers, although not as many as in my student days.
To finish the summer off, however, I've just been to Walsingham again, for the Youth 2000 festival. Along with the Maltfriscan community, Youth 2000 has been a support and encouragement for my Franciscan vocation since shortly before I joined the Order. This year's gathering seems to have benefited rather than lost out by its proximity to World Youth Day, with many freshly-inspired young Catholics there to spread the love.