Northern European inter-novitiate meeting: growing into a single community

Manresa House hosted the French and German Novitiates, including their novice masters, Thierry and Thomas from 2nd to 9th August. The time together was well prepared practically, thanks especially to Brother Mick O’Connor SJ, and spiritually and creatively through stages of the Emmaus journey in Luke. The participants soon grew into a single community.

On Saturday morning Archbishop Bernard Longley arrived with Anglican Bishop David Urquhart, a near neighbour and friend. Their dialogue in answer to the novices’ questions showed how close they were in ministry and awareness of the needs of their extensive dioceses. The afternoon was spent walking in the city centre, visiting the two cathedrals, getting in touch with the Composition of Place.

Sunday was a day of reflection stimulatingly led by Father Frank Janin SJ, President of the Conference of European Provincials. He led the group in smaller parties for the discernment process on the Universal Apostolic preferences. The evening was dedicated to the ministry of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials, a great example of how apostolates can be bonded together in partnership.

On the following day, Thiranjala Weerasinghe nSJ, novice from Sri Lanka, explored writings of St Peter Favre SJ and Letters of Tribulation of Fr Lorenzo Ricci SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the time of the Suppression, for the prayer and group reflection. In the afternoon, Father Michael Barnes SJ spoke from his research and years of personal experience on the principles of interfaith relations. He gave an example of an epic on the life of Jesus in an Indian language along with the narrative style of the sixteenth century English Jesuit, Thomas Stephens SJ. This was an early example of communicating faith in another culture.

These latest sessions prepared the group for a long and rich interfaith day, in Smethwick, a strongly Asian area. It started by being greeted by the Deputy Mayor of Sandwell (on a long railway bridge built by Telford in the early nineteenth century). They enjoyed then a real Application of the Senses in an Alladin’s Cave of a shop run by a Sikh who was Chair of the National Society of Retail Businesses. “My general store”, he said, “is not just for buying things but for people to chat and meet with each other”. Following this, it cannot be forgotten the hospitality of prayer and a meal in the nearby Sikh Gurdwara and in the Anglican Holy Trinity Church as well as a visit to the Abrahamic Centre down the road. The tour ended with sharing Evensong in the Anglican church.

There was a lot to assimilate in personal prayer, and Wednesday morning was devoted to this. In the afternoon the group listened to a dialogue between chaplains of different faiths in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where some of the novices have pastoral work each Friday. The Catholic Chaplain, a former married Anglican priest with several children, gave a moving account of his journey to his present ministry.

The final day was spent in groups recognizing, interpreting and articulating the experiences of a very full week. Tony Nye SJ, who participated in the meeting, commented: “we all needed our Barmouth holiday after that, joined by a number of the French novices for the first week, keeping up our close-knit community.”