Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Singing her Dreams: The Pope’s Diva

Carly Paoli was the voice of the Year of Mercy anthem, and a Pope Francis favourite. She’s half-Italian – but her roots, as Joanna Moorhead discovers, are firmly in the British Midlands.

‘They say all roads lead to Rome,’ says opera singer Carly Paoli, ‘and in my life, they certainly seem to have done that!’

Carly, who’s 29, was the voice behind the Ave Maria chosen by the Pope as the official song for the Year of Mercy. She says she couldn’t have been more thrilled, and treasures her memories of meeting Pope Francis. ‘He was smiling and so friendly; and he gave me a rosary which I’ll always keep, it means a lot to me,’ she says. ‘Singing that song has been a real highlight of my career so far.’

With her long black hair and filmstar looks, not to mention her exotic-sounding name, Carly is every inch the Italian; so it’s a surprise to learn that she was raised in a cul-de-sac in Mansfield, the daughter of a long distance lorry driver father, Paul, and mum, Tina, who worked in a travel agent. ‘My dad would leave the house at 4am most mornings and would often not be home ‘til late,’ she says. As a child she loved singing along to Disney videos: ‘even at the age of three or four,’ she says, ‘I was singing along to Beauty and the Beast’. She remembers on one occasion singing on the bus home, only to realise that everyone had gone quiet to listen to her, and that they were passing round a collection-box for donations.

So it was clear she had a talent, and by the age of nine Carly had told her mum that to be a singer was the career she wanted. Her parents duly enrolled her into theatre school, and took turns driving her to the lessons in nearby Chesterfield.

But, says Carly when we meet for coffee, it was her maternal grandfather who was perhaps the strongest influence in her career. He lived in Puglia, where her parents bought a house during her childhood, and summers were spent enjoying the long Italian summers. ‘The thing was that there were often fiestas, and a fiesta would inevitably involve plenty of music and singing,’ remembers Carly. ‘And at one point there was a big Mass in Torre Paduli, and my grandfather decided I should go along to audition to open the fiesta, so he drove me in his tiny Fiat Panda to sing for the priests. I was 14 at the time and it was my first big break: I sang to hundreds of people, and my grandfather was so proud of me!’ The Italian relatives, she says, were where the singing came from: one Italian uncle used to play the accordion and write folk songs, and a great-uncle, who worked as a cook for the Shah of Persia, was known as the singing chef as he would sing arias while doing the cooking.

At the age of 16 Carly won a scholarship to Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Hertfordshire, and from there went to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester: by now, her heart was set on a classical singing career, which she says is a better fit for her voice than West End musicals – though she is a huge fan of Elaine Paige, and is tremendously proud of the fact that she once sang on stage with her. In 2014 she was heard by 16-time Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster, who invited her to make her international debut at his gala in Calgary, Canada. The following year came an opportunity to sing at Windsor Castle, following which she has added Prince Charles to her list of fans – he apparently asked her, after the performance, if she could send him her album, and invited her to sing at a Prince’s Trust concert.

FLORENCE, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 13: Singers Andrea Bocelli and Carly Paoli perform at the Celebrity Fight Night gala at Palazzo Vecchio during 2015 Celebrity Fight Night Italy on September 13, 2015 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night)

At Windsor Castle she sang alongside Jose Carreras, which she says was very special: he’d been her grandfather’s favourite singer, and he was so kind to her. ‘He was such a wonderful gentleman: he knew how nervous I was, and he really helped me to relax. His advice was to eat pasta al dente with olive oil and parmesan before a performance.’ For the concert in Rome for the Year of Mercy she sang with Andrea Bocelli, and has since sung with him at the London O2. In Rome, she says, Bocelli said to her, as they came off stage, how beautiful she was looking in her red dress. ‘His wife must have told him what I was wearing,’ says Carly, because Bocelli is blind.

Italy has become a second home for Carly; her relatives there are Catholics, although she was raised Church of England and is, she tells me, closely involved in her local parish church, singing regularly at concerts and fundraisers there. She was raised Carly Hopkinson, but at some point along the way it was suggested to her that her mother’s maiden name sounded more like an opera singer’s name, so she switched to that – and has clearly never looked back.

Carly is now widely touted as an opera star in the making, and her 14-track debut album, Singing My Dreams, was released earlier this year. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and at the Forum Studios in Rome, it begins with the heartwarming ‘Music of Heaven’ and moves on to ‘The Mystery of Your Gift’.

There are several Italian numbers – Carly is fluent in Italian, and says she even texts her friends and family in the language – including ‘Almeno Tu Nell’Universo’, and she’s penned her own English lyrics to Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s ‘Se Tu Fossi’ from his Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso, a song which made number 2 in the classical music charts last year. Among four songs that showcase Carly’s skills as a lyricist is ‘Why’, penned in tribute to her little nephew, who asks lots of questions; and there’s also her words for the late James Horner’s Legends of The Fall. Another highlight is ‘Il Mio Miracolo’, a duet with the Italian tenor Alessandro Safina.

Probably the song that’s dearest to her heart is Memory of You, a song she wrote for her beloved grandfather, who died last year. Before we part we discuss, again, Italy: Carly adores the country, and would like to live there one day. She’s on the brink of a stellar career: not only singing her dreams, but living them too.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Fr Martin Newell – Priest Protester

We are familar with the phrase ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ – Fr Martin Newell is an example of someone putting his faith where his mouth is – we met up with him to talk about his courageous witness in standing up against the scandalous and unjust arms trade.

Most Catholic priests who find themselves in prison are there as chaplains. Not Fr Martin Newell, though: he’s been an inmate several times, and is likely to be so again.

Fr Newell, 50, who is based in Birmingham, is what might be called a protest priest: like the Catholic priests and nuns who were arrested in Washington last week after demonstrating in support of US immigrants, he believes his vocation is not only to the religious life, but also to making a stand on issues he believes Christ, if he was on earth today, would have championed.

He’s currently facing legal action over an unpaid fine dating back to an act of civil disobedience at the 2009 London Arms Fair, when he and a religious sister covered a sign near the entrance to the fair in red paint. ‘We did it to symbolise the blood of innocent people,’ says Fr Newell, who was arrested, charged with criminal damage, and later fined £515. He has consistently refused to pay the fine, and was recently recalled to court to explain himself; magistrates have given him another 28 days to pay, although he made clear in court that he will not do so.

If he’s eventually sent to prison, he does at least know what to expect: in 2000-1 he spent six months inside after deliberately damaging a vehicle used in nuclear warhead convoys. ‘We got into the base and used hammers to damage the vehicle,’ he says. ‘It was symbolic, of course, but it also meant the vehicle couldn’t be used for something that is immoral.’ Fr Newell argues that direct action like this is the 21st century’s version of conscientious objection. ‘In traditional wars, governments needed young men to fight,’ he says. ‘But these days they don’t need men to fight, they just need all of us to stay silent, and to pay our taxes.’

His six months were served mostly in Bedford and Belmarsh prisons, and there were some unpleasant experiences. ‘Being admitted to the prison for the first time was terrible: the reception staff wanted to intimidate new inmates, and they were very aggressive,’ he says. ‘It was a horrible start.’ He also felt unsafe at times, and on one occasion had to intervene when a fellow inmate tried to commit suicide. ‘He’d slit his wrists – he survived, that time, but I’ve no idea whether he’s still alive now,’ says Fr Newell.

Being a priest as well as a prisoner made him a figure of some interest inside the prison. ‘I think the officers thought I was someone they could trust, and that I wasn’t likely to make any trouble,’ he says. There were some unusual situations: at one prison, the chaplain was a priest with whom he’d studied at seminary. And on one occasion, says Fr Newell, he was able to celebrate Mass in the prison chapel; at other times, he said the prayers of the Mass alone in his cell.

Born in Walthamstow and raised in South Woodford, Fr Newell first thought about becoming a priest at the age of 14, having been an altar server from the age of seven. After grammar school he studied economics at Southampton University, before doing voluntary work with, amongst others, the Jesuits, before going to Wonersh Seminary. After being ordained in 1997 he spent five years working in parishes in Brentwood diocese, before joining the Passionists in 2001.

But it was an ‘epiphany moment’ when he was a student that put him on the road to life as a protester. ‘I was looking for a way of being more radically committed to the option for the poor, and I had this sudden realisation that justice and peace work was what being a Christian was all about,’ he remembers. ‘I realised that, for me, being a Christian would mean living alongside the poor, being with the poor, working for them; and working for the causes I believe Christ would have worked for. I believe Jesus was a pacifist, and I believe that means I should be one as well. And the implications of that are using non-violent means to work for justice; I’m convinced that non-violent action is a legitimate and positive way of standing up for what I believe in.’

As well as the arms trade, Fr Newell has protested against the use of drones in warfare, and he’s currently directing his energy towards stands against climate change. ‘Climate change is the thing that keeps me awake at night,’ he says. ‘To me, it’s the equivalent of protesting against nuclear weapons in the eighties; in fact, it’s worse than nuclear weapons in one sense, which is that the damage is already being done. With nuclear weapons you could argue that it was about preventing them from being dropped: with climate change, the damage is already taking place. We’re currently sending carbon bombs into the air that will detonate in ten or 15 years’ time – and for some reason, we’re nothing like as scared about the implications as we ought to be.’

Now based in a house where he lives alongside asylum seekers, Fr Newell is part of the leadership team for the Passionists in England and Wales. He helps out in parishes, saying Mass and doing baptisms and funerals: but his vocation, he explains, is about hospitality and resistance. ‘This is my parish, this is my community,’ he explains. ‘The thing I often remember is that Christ was arrested, and so were most of his earliest followers. Should we obey God, or should we obey man? Being arrested isn’t the issue here; the issue is, why have you been arrested? Being a Christian is about being a faithful witness to Christ. We’ve got used to a Church that is part of the establishment, but is that right? Should we be on the side of the establishment?’ That, it seems to him, is one of the biggest questions the Church should be asking itself today.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

‘Finding yourself is Key’

Katharine Welby-Roberts, daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, talks to Joanna Moorhead about the difficulties of growing up in a priest’s family – and how Christianity was crucial to recovering her mental health after a breakdown.

The Church, and Christianity, have been inextricably linked to the depression suffered by Katharine Welby-Roberts, the daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has been speaking out about her mental health to raise awareness of the condition.

It was being a vicar’s daughter, she says, that was at the root of her inability to ‘find herself’; and that was to have a severe and negative impact on her mental health. Justin Welby was an executive in the oil industry until, when Katharine was three years old, he made the decision to retrain as an Anglican priest. ‘He was ordained when I was six, and after that we moved around a lot, to different parishes and different communities in different parts of the country.’

Some of the parishes, Katharine recalls, had a population that was 95% white; in others, most people were from ethnic minorities. Some parishes were wealthy, others were poor. In all of them, Katharine learned to become a chameleon, and to fit in. ‘I would adjust quickly – my accent, my likes and dislikes – to where we were living. I liked the Spice Girls without ever having heard them sing. I became what I needed to be; and that was great for getting on with life at the time, but not so good for understanding who I was.’

Added to which, there was the social pressure. ‘I remember my dad saying, when we first moved to a new parish, be aware that people will know who you are, and what you do might be fed back to us. My parents warned us to watch our behaviour; you felt you should always behave as though people were watching. Not many children are defined by their parents’ careers, and it’s not easy.’

Today Katharine, the third of her parents’ six children, is 31 years old: she has the clear-eyed gaze of her father, and she’s vivacious and bright. But all of this, she explains when we meet in her cottage in Reading, hides her battle with depression: a battle she has written about in her new book, ‘I Thought There Would Be Cake’, in the hope that sharing her own experience may help others. Her depression is clinical, she says, but ‘I think not knowing who you are makes it harder to manage and harder to live with mental health problems. And it makes it difficult to identify as anything other than depressed and anxious. The problem for me was partly due to being unsure about what was me, and that was something I learned along the way. I got to 20 and realised there were so many things I didn’t know about myself, including what my accent was.’

Being raised as a vicar’s daughter also meant there were expectations about her faith, she explains. ‘Children of priests are either ultra-rebellious or ultra-religious. And I’m not rebellious, never have been – but nor have I gone down the super holy route either. I denied faith for a while: when I was about 21 I’d say, I’m not a Christian any more. I told my parents and my mum was like, ok…which I was surprised about, I thought they’d hit the roof.’

For a while Katharine didn’t have a lot of contact with her family: she joined the police force, and made her own way. But inside, she was under a huge amount of stress. ‘I disappeared into my head. The way I dealt with my problems was to have a conversation inside my head – that was my coping mechanism. But it was making me more ill, because I was so disconnected.’

It was after a split from her then partner that she suffered a breakdown, which led to a reconciliation with her parents. Her mother in particular, she says, has been a wonderful support. ‘My mum is my hero. She understands me, she understands my mental health. She can spot changes in my behaviour that mean I’m under pressure. I can tell her things. My dad is a great man, he loves me very much, but he’s very busy and it’s harder to talk to him. If we’re on holiday, I get a chance to talk to him: otherwise, I’d have to book myself into his diary.’

As well as her mum, the other significant person in her life is her now-husband Mike, an IT consultant. They were married in 2014 and spent the first few years of their married life in a flat in Lambeth Palace; and it was there that they started their family, with son Elijah who is now one. ‘At first I thought I might like a home birth and that was interesting, because there hadn’t been a baby born at Lambeth Palace for many years,’ she says. ‘But in the end the doctors advised against it. But Elijah spent the first eight months of his life with us in Lambeth Palace, where our flat was at the top of a spiral staircase which wasn’t great with a buggy. There was certainly lots going on: one day we went downstairs and bumped into John Kerry and the president of Nigeria. Another time we met Angelina Jolie, who was there meeting my father.’

Having Elijah has, inevitably, changed Katharine’s life; like all parents with young children, it forces her to live in the moment and to concentrate on her baby and his needs. ‘We go out a lot, which is good, and I love him to bits.’ Her parents’ first child, Joanna, was only a baby when she was killed in a car accident: having Elijah has made Katharine think about her parents’ loss in a whole new way, she says. ‘Joanna was always part of the family: we’ve always talked about her, we’ve always celebrated her birthday. But now I’ve got my own baby I can’t even imagine how it must be to lose a child: I simply can’t imagine my life without Elijah.’

Eijah’s name is testament to the fact that Katharine has rediscovered her faith. ‘I used to ask the why question a lot,’ she says. ‘But I think understanding who God is and reading the Bible means you realise that it’s full of stories of people who are really struggling in life, and God is still with them. God is so big, and yet He cares about us as individuals. God has made promises and He won’t let us down, and that’s what I came to realise. When Elijah cried out that he wanted to die, God gave him the strength to carry on through the journey.’

What she realised, says Katharine, was that God was there even when her life was at its toughest. ‘God is present if you’re willing to see it, but often we’re not willing to see it. The psalms are full of anger and sorrow and depression; and then at the end of them, there’s almost always a verse of praise. The fact is that God can take it; He allows us to rant and rage at him. And that’s worthy of praise.’

Her parents’ faith has inspired her own. ‘My parents are very real, and you don’t look at them and think they are perfect. When they get things wrong they apologise. They trust in God in a way that inspires me.’

As far as her own condition is concerned, she’s not ready to say she’s out of the woods: but she does feel she has amazing support in the shape of her husband Mike, and her mother Caroline. ‘It’s a vulnerability – I’ll always be vulnerable to mental health problems,’ she says. ‘But the key, for me, is accepting who I am, and knowing that who I am is ok. That’s crucial.’

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

The Sea of Hope

Thousands of migrants escaping war and turmoil in Africa and the Middle East land up in Lampedusa. Joanna Moorhead reports from the tiny Italian island on the response of the local Christian community to the crisis.

Everything is beside the sea on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa; everywhere you go you hear the rush of the waves, and you see the wide blue of the Mediterranean. At carpenter Francesco Tuccio’s workshop, the water laps at the end of the street, and you can taste the salt on the breeze.

There are plenty of nautical notes in Francesco’s workshop – wooden fishes on the shelves, boat pictures on the walls – but the real story here is in boxes on the floor. They contain pieces of wood – some big, some small – that have drifted onto the beaches as a result of the most pressing, and heartbreaking, humanitarian disaster of our time.

Francesco is in his forties, a father of four children aged between eight and 18. Like everyone I met in Lampedusa, he has been horrified by the influx of desperate people onto his island. They come from Tunisia and Libya, from Nigeria and Ethiopia, from Eritrea and Mali; they come from across Africa and the Middle East, and especially they come from the war zones and the countries that are most politically and economically unstable. Many of those who come are young men, who are usually the people most able to travel in any problem-hit community; but when things are bad the women and children, and even old people, start to move too – and there have been all of these arriving in Lampedusa over the last seven or eight years, since the migrant crisis began.

The ones who arrive here safely are, though, the lucky ones: for every 40 who make it to the shore, one dies at sea. The bodies of the dead are thrown overboard, and sometimes they too are washed up on the beaches; usually, the dead are the women and children. Not only are they weaker than the men, but they tend to be seated in the centre of the boats, and they die from the fumes from the engine, or are crushed when the men seated around the edges of the craft are flung into the middle by the waves. So those who arrive alive are often traumatised; sometimes, they have lost loved ones on the journey. At best, they have nothing; at worst, they have lost everything.

When Francesco, who like most of the islanders is Catholic, started to collect the driftwood from the boats, he wasn’t sure what to do with it; and then, one day at Mass, he had an idea. He would create crosses from the wood, and give them to the incoming refugees. He started to hand out the crosses to people he met at church; many of the migrants, he says, especially those from Eritrea and Ethiopia, are Christian.

In time, the Lampedusa cross, which is one of the exhibits in the British Museum’s exhibition ‘Living with Gods’ supported by the Genesis Foundation (continues to 8 April), came to have a meaning that transcends even Christianity: it came to symbolise hope against the odds, hope in a future that had once seemed so bleak, and was now at least a possibility. And Francesco’s gesture came to symbolise something more than a carpenter’s skills, too; it came to be a reminder that we can all do what we can do, in the face of human suffering. ‘I didn’t know what else I could do to help,’ says Francesco simply. ‘I’m a carpenter, so making crosses was something I could do; it was something tangible.’

Francesco is not the only Lampedusan who is doing what he can for the migrants. Paola Larosa, who runs the bed and breakfast where I stay, looks after visiting journalists; helping them to tell the story of what is happening here, she says, is her contribution. In the shops, where there is hardly any food available, the islanders dig into their own pockets to buy bread, milk and other items for the boatpeople. And they act as unofficial banks for the incomers, too, allowing them to get their relatives to send them money transfers, which they convert into cash.

Life for the migrants in Lampedusa is desultory: this may be a holiday island, with beautiful seascapes and sandy beaches, but the migrants are not holidaymakers, and for them there is nothing to fill their time. They are housed in a prison-like building with no TV rooms or sports facilities; in theory they’re not supposed to leave the premises, but in practice there’s a hole in the fence through which they can squeeze and walk into town. You see them on the streets and in the cafes: young men, mostly (some still children) wandering aimlessly or smoking cigarettes at the outdoor tables of the many cafes (they have no money to buy coffee). This is a holding station, a staging-post. They are lucky to be alive; but many have been bereaved on the journey, some have lost children or partners; and for all, there is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. While the aim is for migrants to spend only four or five days in Lampedusa before being moved on to the reception areas on the Italian mainland, the reality is that many are here for far longer, some as long as a month.

At the moment the numbers of arrivals are low, due in part to measures between the Italian and the Libyan authorities that have been criticised by Amnesty International; but at its busiest, there were 12 boats arriving each day. ‘People were sleeping on the beaches, on the dockside – just wherever they could,’ says Paola. Lampedusa has a population of just 6,000; but in 2013 they took in 23,000 migrants, and in 2014 13,000. Last year the number was around 10,000. And who knows what the future will hold: because of its geographical position, this island will continue to be the entry point to Europe for many of those fleeing war and turmoil in Africa and the Middle East.

In many ways the people of Lampedusa – people like Paola, Francesco, and the island’s parish priest Don Carmelo La Magra, have been the representatives of all of us in the migrant crisis. They’ve been on the front line of the humanitarian effort; they’re not professional aid workers, but they’ve deputised for ordinary people everywhere who care, in providing desperate incomers with practical aid and, most important of all, a genuine welcome. ‘The main problem [in the outside world] is that many people don’t think of the migrants as human beings,’ says Paola. They’re just regarded as ‘a problem’ or an ‘unfortunate phenomenon’; a regrettable by-product of turmoil and wars in other parts of the world that seem a long way from us in the UK.

Not so, says Paola. ‘This isn’t an Italian problem or even a European problem. It’s the whole world’s problem: it’s everyone’s problem. And the real problem is the wars that force people from their homes.’ Humanitarian corridors, which Pope Francis has been pivotal in helping to establish, are a crucial way forward in the medium term: they allow for the processing of would-be migrants through official channels, and so far at least 21,000 people have been given visas as a result. If there’s the chance of a safe way out, fewer people are tempted to risk their own and their families’ lives on overcrowded, leaky boats they’re charged around Euros 6,000 for a place on.

But in the long term, the people on the front line in Lampedusa are very clear about what’s needed to stop the influx of desperate people: an end to war and violence. It’s easy, says Paola, to think the migrant crisis is about poverty; in fact, she believes it’s about wealth. The world does not have too many very poor people, it was too many very rich people; and the fallout of the increasing inequality of our world is what drives extreme poverty.

In the office of Mediterranean Hope, a Christian charity set up in 2014 to respond to the crisis in Lampedusa, no-one pretends they have all the answers. They do think, though, that we should all be aware of more of the relevant questions. ‘European countries, including the UK and Italy, are still selling lots of weapons to the African continent. There are so many issues that aren’t considered when we talk about migration,’ says Alberto Mallardo, one of the workers.

Tomasso Tamburello, his colleague, says we should think about the crisis more in economic than emotional terms. ‘Over the years ahead, Europe is going to be enhanced by the skills of the migrants. In Italy we are not replacing people, our birthrate is very low. We need more people for the future – and these people have so much to give.’

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Bringing God to the House

What’s the role of Parliament’s chaplain? Joanna Moorhead goes to Westminster to meet Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

Most of the black women who work in Parliament are cleaners or caterers, and if Rose Hudson-Wilkin didn’t wear a dog collar, she would probably be mistaken for one of them. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a cleaner or caterer, as she’s quick to point out. But she’s a priest, the chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, and a staunch campaigner for greater visibility for people of colour in high-ranking positions.

Rose grew up in Jamaica: as she puts it, she had the great good fortune to grow up there, because it meant she was surrounded by black women and men who fulfilled all roles in society, including the highest of posts. ‘Everywhere I looked, there were people just like me,’ she says. ‘So I knew I could do anything I wanted with my life. It’s so powerful to be able to see your reflection in others.’

Her early life in Jamaica was no picnic, though. When Rose was just a year old, her mother went to live in the UK. Probably, she says, the plan was to send for her and her sister, who remained in Montego Bay with their father: but somehow the summons never came, both her parents found new partners, and it wasn’t until she was nine that she met her mother again, on a trip home to Jamaica.

The lack of a mother didn’t mean a lack of love, but it was the kind of love that’s shown in actions, and cuddles and endearments were in short supply. Much of her validation came from the extended community at her church: the other worshippers were always there for her, Rose recalls, interested in her school career and her life and plans. ‘We were fortunate, because there was a shortage of priests at the time and that meant the people shared the task of leading the worship. So sometimes it was the turn of the young people to lead, and that gave me amazing experiences. I preached my first sermon at 14!’

Around the same time, she began to wonder whether God was calling her to the priesthood. ‘One night I had a dream that disturbed me, and I couldn’t go back to sleep,’ she remembers. ‘I reached for my Bible, and it fell open at Luke 4 – ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me’ – and I thought, wow. And the next day the reading was from the same passage in Isaiah. I thought, this is no coincidence – it’s a call.’

The only problem was that women were not at that time being ordained in the Anglican church: but Rose was unperturbed. ‘I thought, I’ll just trust in God. I believe I’m being called, and I’ll obey that call. If God wants me, things will change.’ She joined the Church Army, and was sent to the UK for training, and while there met her husband Ken, a Geordie who was later ordained. The couple had three children (now aged 27, 29 and 31, and there are also three grandchildren), and for the next few years Rose focused on being a mother – but she never forgot her calling, or her belief that her time would come. As her children got older, and after the Anglican church admitted women to the diaconate, she applied for the training course, was ordained in 1991, and became one of the cohort of women deacons who were waiting eagerly when the Church of England general synod voted to admit women to the priesthood in 1992.

Parishes followed, first as a curate and later as a parish priest – and there were difficulties sometimes with churchgoers who were not comfortable with the idea of women’s ordination. Being a black woman priest made her an outsider twice over, she says: but she was determined to see the positive changes, and the fact that this was the moment to claim her inheritance – not just on her own behalf, but on behalf of young black people and women everywhere, who could now see the church hierarchy as belonging to them, as being open to all. The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was a strong ally, and she spent 10 years building up strong and vibrant parishes in east London.

A decade seemed long enough in her job, and she was starting to think about moving on when Ken phoned her one day with some news. She was in Jamaica at the time: Ken was calling to say he’d heard that Westminster Abbey was looking for a new priest whose work would include being chaplain to the Houses of Parliament. ‘My gut feeling was, walking around in robes all day isn’t my idea of work,’ says Rose. ‘So I thought, it’s probably not for me.’ But several more people mentioned it to her, and she decided she should check it out. Parts of the job appealed more than others: she applied, as did more than 90 others, and after the final stage interviews it was decided to change the way the role is organised, so Rose could remain in her parish but take on the role of Parliamentary chaplain as well.

We meet in her office in the Palace of Westminster: it’s off the hallway of the Speaker’s House, and while we’re chatting John Bercow appears with his children, back from the school run, and the two greet one another warmly. Rose’s role at Westminster is closely connected with Berkow’s: each day at the start of the sitting in the House of Commons, she delivers the prayers for the day. ‘MPs often come up to me afterwards and say how moving they find the prayers, and how important they are to everything that happens there,’ she says. She doesn’t say prayers in the House of Lords because the bishops who sit there lead on that; but she also leads two communion services a week in the beautiful chapel of the Palace of Westminster, as well as officiating at weddings and baptisms (staff and members of the Houses are entitled to use the chapel for their family occasions).

Rose is the 79th Parliamentary chaplain, but the first-ever woman, and the first-ever person of colour. As at other moments in her life, she’s a trail-blazer. ‘I feel like Esther,’ she says, ‘who was told: you are here for such a time as this. I am able to be visible here, and I go off around Britain giving talks and preaching. I especially enjoy giving talks in schools, because I’m so aware of how important it is that the young people of today see someone like me in a job like this.’

She’s long been spoken of as a likely bishop; she’s not ruling it out but nor is she holding out for it either. ‘I’m not holding my breath,’ she says, ‘but if I’m called to serve then it would be something I’d consider. The important thing is to be focused on what you’re doing, and I’m still very much focused on life at Westminster.’

When I ask what’s been the highpoint of her seven years at Westminster, she answers without missing a beat: that’s an easy one. ‘Without a shadow of a doubt, it was meeting Barack Obama. I was in my robes and he took my hand and he said, ma’am, you look spiff.’ And she throws back her head and laughs, a big, happy laugh, remembering that moment when the most powerful leader on earth met the chaplain of the Palace of Westminster, and both revelled for a few moments in their shared African roots, how far they’d come, and how important it was that they’d made their respective journeys.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Christmas in the Forest

Jean Vanier’s l’Arche community is a very special place at this time of year; but then again, it’s special all year round, as Joanna Moorhead discovers.

The live nativity at Christmas midnight Mass at the l’Arche community has something different about it: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds are all played by people with disabilities. It’s entirely in character with a place that sums up, and lives out, what it means to treat those who are handicapped as equals, and to see them not as people who need looking after, but as individuals with a great deal to teach the rest of us.

L’Arche, which lies in a sleepy French village in the middle of a forest, feels particularly remarkable at Christmas. Its founder Jean Vanier, who set it up after feeling appalled by the way he saw disabled people being treated in institutions, has spent more than half a century championing the idea that the secret to happiness is to learn from those who are physically challenged, to concentrate on what we can do rather than on what we can’t, and – quite simply – to enjoy our time on earth. ‘Christmas is the moment when all that comes together, because l’Arche is about celebrating, and Christmas is one big celebration,’ he says.

There are a lot of people to accommodate at the Christmas Mass and festivities at l’Arche, because the community now numbers more than 200 people, out of a village population of around 2000. And this village, Trosly-Breuil, while still the heart of the L’Arche movement, is now but a small part of it: there are 150 more communities, in countries as far-flung as Japan, Poland and Brazil, which adds up to many thousands of individuals, physically challenged and able-bodied, whose lives have been influenced, and often transformed, by the movement Vanier started.

It was back in 1964 when he first came to this village, which is a few kilometres outside the town of Compiègne in Picardy. An ex-naval officer who was searching for something meaningful to do with his life, he was invited to the village by a priest friend who lived here. But it was when he accompanied the priest to the institution where people with handicaps were looked after that Vanier realised this was his life’s work: the patients were badly treated, dehumanised, and not seen as the individuals they so clearly were. ‘They were condemned to a lesser life,’ says Vanier. ‘But the truth is that each person is a treasure, and in discovering the treasure in others we discover it in ourselves, too.’ The first l’Arche community was born when Vanier took two young men from the institution to live with him in a house in the village: in a family-like setting they flourished, and Vanier’s life was also deeply enhanced. ‘We are transformed by living with people who are different and who have been humiliated,’ he explains. ‘The great pain of our world is that it is obsessed with competition and the need to win. But if you go down the ladder rather than up, you find people who are interested not in wealth and success but only in relationships – and you discover that is the secret to great happiness.’

Rooted in Christianity – although those who work for it come from all faiths and none – l’Arche has always been counter-cultural, but in today’s world it seems to stand out more strikingly than ever. Does Vanier – an immensely tall man, who I met on his 89th birthday – feel worried about the effect of the Trump era on the philosophy he has spent a lifetime trying to spread? Predictably enough, the ever-optimistic Vanier is still hopeful, even though he concedes that ‘Donald Trump is the perfect example of the person I wish to change. But even though he says he doesn’t want migrants and seems to be turning away the very people I say we could all learn so much from, still we are in a world where, thanks to information technology, people are talking to one another more than ever before. And I believe that is where hope lies. We also have to pay heed to what’s going on: Trump is a cry for something, and that’s what we have to listen to.’

He also has hope in today’s young. ‘Many of them come to work in l’Arche, and what I see are ferocious individuals who want to learn how to live together. They’re interested in how to make the planet more beautiful, and in working out how we can all be together. The young people are different from the generation before, and that gives me a lot of hope.’ As always, Christmas at the l’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil will involve many youngsters who have volunteered to spend part of their lives alongside people with disabilities: the partnership between the young and the handicapped is one of the movement’s many strengths.

Fittingly enough, happiness seems to radiate out of Vanier, and his favourite word is ‘super’ (Pope Francis is ‘a super person, an amazing man, and you get the absolute sense with him that everyone is precious’); but the one time his smile fades is when I ask him how it feels to be the Catholic Church’s most pre-eminent living saint. Like Mother Teresa, who was his friend, many expect him to be fast-tracked to sainthood when he dies: how does it feel, to have that sort of accolade? He shakes his head and looks, for the first time, a little sad. ‘The problem is that when people talk about me being a saint, they aren’t thinking about what they should be doing, who they should be helping,’ he says. ‘Talking of me as a saint suggests I’m doing something other people can’t do, which is the exact opposite of what I want to suggest. Everyone can do what I’m doing, which is to welcome the disadvantaged into their lives and to realise we have much to learn from them. Doing this work hasn’t been a hardship: I’ve had fun, we have fun together. I’ve had the most marvellous time.’

Being with Vanier feels like being with someone who’s very close to God; but it’s only later in the day, when I’m invited to have supper in one of the l’Arche houses, that I start to properly understand what his contribution to caring for the physically disabled is really all about. Life at l’Arche is modelled on family life: disabled people and carers, known as assistants, live in houses that are as close as possible to ordinary homes. There are grab rails and wide corridors for the wheelchairs, but the sitting-room looks like an ordinary family sitting-room, with a large TV, sofas, armchairs and a rug. The house I’m in is home to seven people with disabilities and four assistants; in an ideal world, explains Gail, one of their number, there would be six carers.

Supper is served around a huge table: four of the residents are in wheelchairs, and three are severely disabled. What’s immediately striking is how the disabled people are at the heart of the meal and the conversation: they’re as much participants as the assistants and the less disabled residents. Everyone helps everyone else: one resident helps his neighbour with his spoon, another offers hers a drinking cup from time to time. The vegetables are served by Amelie: it takes her a bit longer to negotiate the spoon and to ladle the leeks in cheese sauce onto the plates, but time is not of the essence here, and enabling people to contribute is.

There’s no sense of exclusion around the table at l’Arche: being unable to communicate verbally doesn’t mean being unable to communicate in other ways, and it’s clear there are some big personalities among the residents. The three-course meal takes over an hour to complete, and involves a fair amount of mess: but mess, as Vanier would say, is part of the reality of life, and there’s no attempt made to sanitise or prettify the proceedings. One resident, who clearly loves his pureed spinach, ends up with it all over his face, neck and hands; but he’s clearly relished every minute of eating it – and everyone else has enjoyed sharing in how much he’s enjoyed it, too.

Christmas dinner will be another meal just like this, a meal in which the disabled and able-bodied sit side by side, understanding the advantages of both states of being, and knowing that both can learn from the other (especially, Vanier would say, the advantaged from the disadvantaged). At a time of sharing gifts, it’s clear that l’Arche is a place where the gift-giving is a two-way street, and where paying attention to those who may seem to have least can turn the world around in an entirely positive and joyful way.

Summer in the Forest, a film about life at l’Arche and what we can all learn from it, is available to download at

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Lifting the Prison Blues

A little bit of music in a prison can go a long way, Joanna Moorhead discovers.

It’s a weekday afternoon jamming session, and the all-female band are giving it their all. At the back of the room the drummer is a 20-something with long, blonde hair; in front of her is the guitarist, a woman in her forties. And in front, kneeling on the ground as she intones her lyrics, is the vocalist, all in black with a baseball cap pulled low across her forehead.

They’re playing Tracy Chapman’s She’s Got Her Ticket, and it’s particularly apt in this setting: ‘She’s got her ticket/I think she’s going to use it/I think she’s going to fly away.’ Because this isn’t a pub or a recording studio, it’s a prison chapel. We’re inside HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire, a women’s prison; this is a regular meeting of the inmates’ music group, Changing Tunes, and for the women who take part it can often feel like the only chance they get to soar above the prison bars, and experience a kind of spiritual freedom.

The 12 or so prisoners in the group are led by music therapist Fran Key, who’s been running the group for six years. A quiet woman with a pixie bob, she leads the session without dominating it: there’s plenty of opportunity for the prisoners to put forward their ideas about what songs are performed, and who plays what instrument. Fran has a big folder with the lyrics of hundreds of tracks: others this afternoon include Rod Stewart’s Handbags and the Gladrags, and James Arthur’s Impossible. I’m part of the chorus, sharing my songsheet with a young woman of 25 who’s serving an eight-week term. She has two young children aged four and six; when Fran suggests we sing Pharrell Williams’s Happy, tears well up in my neighbour’s eyes and she says she couldn’t stay in the room for that, as it reminds her too much of her little boy. Another song is quickly chosen; everyone in this room understands the agony of missing family, particularly children.

The young woman – let’s call her Charlie, which isn’t her name – says she’s come along to three or four Changing Tunes sessions, and they’ve made a huge difference to her time at the prison. ‘It gives you a real lift, and there aren’t many ways you get a lift when you’re in prison,’ she says. ‘The songs are sometimes sad, and they’re sometimes fun – and it’s always good being part of a group, and enjoying the moment. ‘Another woman says Changing Tunes is the high point of her week. ‘Being in prison is lonely, and boring, and you feel empty a lot of the time. This is the one time in the week when I feel properly connected, and as though I’m doing something that’s simply to enjoy.’

Enjoyment and fun aren’t high on the list of what a prison seeks to provide: but the punishment, Fran reminds me, is in being separated from family and friends, and unable to make decisions about your own life. ‘The sessions enable women to have a go at playing musical instruments, and to sing the lyrics, both as soloists and as part of a chorus,’ she says. ‘It gives them opportunities that are not easily available elsewhere in prison – like the chance to work as part of a team, and the chance to communicate with one another in a different way. It also gives them opportunities to make choices, about what to play and what song to perform. And the women help one another – I see supportive relationships being created, in order to make the music work. The sessions bring commodities that are incredibly rare into the prison – beauty, joy, escapism, and peace. I feel incredibly privileged to do this work, because many of the people in here have had so much stacked against them – many of them are real heroes.’

The music isn’t restricted to the sessions: it seeps out of the weekly jams to infect the whole prison. ‘Sometimes we take the music to the wings – we form a small group and move around the prison,’ says Fran.

Changing Tunes runs music workshops in 16 prisons in Britain, and would like to run them in more. It grew out of a faith background, having been founded three decades ago, in 1988, by a musician called Richard Pendlebury who played the guitar during religious services in prisons, and realised how much of a difference music could make. Richard – who’s now an Anglican priest – says the prisoners loved the music, and were very keen when he decided to set up a separate music group. ‘People said they felt they were out of prison when they were in our sessions. They felt it gave them a space where they weren’t being judged, and where they could have a bit of fun.’

What Richard realised, says Changing Tunes’ chief executive Lizzie Bond, was that making music gave prisoners the chance to engage with something life-enhancing and different. ‘To him, it seemed very much like faith in action,’ she says. ‘We’re a Christian organisation, although prisoners of all denominations and none are welcome at our sessions: and what we aim to do is bring some hope into the lives of people who desperately need it. I know as a human being and as a Christian how important hope is. A lot of prisoners have been told they are rubbish and what they do is rubbish, and they believe they’ll never be able to do anything worthwhile with their lives. Making music gives them something to be proud of, something they can do and something that raises their self-esteem – it’s so simple, it’s really low-cost, but it can make a huge difference.’

What makes Changing Tunes almost unique in the prison system is that it provides prisoners with continuity: after release, those who took part in sessions inside are invited to carry on attending similar workshops on the outside. ‘Almost all the relationships people form in prison are cut off when they’re released,’ explains Lizzie. ‘But what we’ve found is that resettling into the community is made easier if you have some people you can talk to who knew what your life in prison was like.’ Her point is reflected in participants’ reoffending rates: the national average is that 46% of released prisoners get into trouble again, but among people who’ve taken part in the Changing Tunes programme, the figure is just 12%.

One of the most exciting aspects of Changing Tunes is that it gives prisoners and ex-prisoners the chance to showcase their work in regular concerts, both inside prison and after release.

And to mark the charity’s 30th anniversary, musicians Billy Bragg and Frank Turner have joined forces with a group of ex-prisoners to make an album, downloadable from the charity’s website. ‘It’s brilliant to get the backing of big names like Billy and Frank,’ says Lizzie. ‘And they’ve been very impressed with the musical abilities of the ex-prisoners they’ve been working with. Changing Tunes can bring music into the lives of people who’ve not got much experience of it, but equally it can help build on talents prisoners have, giving them skills they can use when they’re out of prison. It’s such a simple idea, and it makes such a huge difference to people’s lives.’

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

CHRISTIANS – Your Faith Needs YOU


In 1914 the British Government ran an advertising campaign depicting Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of War, wearing the cap of a Field Marshall pointing at the viewer with the words: ‘Your Country Needs You.’ The campaign and poster captured the public’s imagination and encouraged everyone to do their best to contribute to the war effort.

On Friday 20 January 1961, President JF Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, said: ‘Do not ask what your country can do you for you, ask what you can do for your country.’

We have adopted these two famous slogans and adapted them in a light-hearted parody to encourage you, our readers, to rally to join us in our own campaign – a campaign of faith.

Our campaign slogan isn’t ‘Your Country Needs You’ but rather ‘Your Faith Needs You.’


Our campaign slogan isn’t ‘Don’t ask what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you’ but rather ‘Don’t ask what your faith can do for you but what can you do for your faith.’

Pope Francis asked as much in Evangelii Gaudium, his Apostolic Exhortation on our call to evangelize and the joy of the evangelist.

Just as the Church exists to evangelize, this is its raison d’être, so too does Alive Publishing exist to evangelize, and all our publishing projects have this noble goal as their very heart.

However, we don’t share our faith, witness to it and evangelize simply and merely as individuals. We do so as members of the Body of Christ, brother and sisters united in a common vision and mission.

This is why we wanted to reach out to all our readers and ask for your help and assistance – Your Faith Needs You!

Through your generosity and kindness we are able to send Bible Alive, Walk with Me and other faith resources to our brothers and sisters who live their faith in developing countries.

They have a dire need for resources which encourage them in living their faith today – our Letters from the Heart explain so eloquently what these gifts mean to those who receive them.

Sri Lanka
I’m very much grateful to you all for your generosity towards me and my sisters in the Region. I get Bible Alive since 2010 and I’m very much strengthened spiritually. Not only that, most of the sisters in the region too receive Bible Alive free of charge. Thank you so much. God Bless and Reward you.


Franciscan Sisters, Nigeria
Dear Bible Alive, These greatly appreciated booklets come addressed to me for the prisoners and ‘the youth’. May I add my deep gratitude – they are READ, used, reflected on and greatly valued. We pray for our benefactors who make this possible AND for the staff at Bible Alive.


Assisi Convent, Nigeria
Dear Bible Alive, I wish to write and appreciate you for your great work and generosity. I really love and enjoy reading your reflections. The reflections help me to understand and have a deeper meaning of the gospels. Thank you so much for all your good work.


It is with great joy I write to you, your monthly, Daily reflections has been very inspiring and very helpful. Reading about this month’s column on ‘The Gift of Prayer In the Year of Mercy’ was very touching and a wakeup call for me. I must admit even before the year commence, something special and extraordinary has started happening to me. Please keep up the good work, well done.



It’s through your generosity that we are able to send Bible Alive and other faith resources to our brothers and sisters in developing countries who are in dire need of them. There are many different ways that you can help us help them:

  1. By taking a Loose Change Jar/Parish Bucket
  2. Telling a Friend
  3. Giving a Gift Subscription
  4. Becoming a Parish or Diocese Promoter

If you would like to help those in need through our International Faith Outreach and would like to take part in one of our campaigns please click on the four links above for more information and all of the forms you need or you can call us on:
+ 44 (0) 1782 745 600

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Fr Peter Hocken – Prophet of the Spirit

Fr Peter Hocken, a founding Trustee of Bible Alive and member of its Editorial Board, died on June 10 2017. A diocesan priest, he was ordained in 1974 for the diocesan priesthood; shortly after ordination he was appointed professor of moral theology at Oscott College, Birmingham.

In 1976 he moved to Washington DC and was a member of Mother of God, the Charismatic Covenant Community. During his time there he obtained a doctorate in Charismatic studies from the University of Birmingham. He returned to England in 1997 to take up duties as the private secretary of Bishop Leo McArtie, Bishop of Northampton. In 2008 he moved to Austria and became involved in an unofficial dialogue with Catholic-Messianic Jewish dialogue and was also a member of the Theology Commission for the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

Fr Peter had a lively sense of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Charismatic Movement but also in creating unity between believers, as well as reaching out to the Jewish people, our elder brothers and sisters in faith.

Bible Alive owes him a great debt. His emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his commitment to Christian unity, his conviction that Baptism in the Spirit was a ‘naked grace’, a great gift to the Church, and that it was the Holy Spirit who enlivened and animated the reading of scripture, informs our editorial vision today.

He, along with the other members of the editorial board, recognized that our emphasis, from June 1996 when we launched Bible Alive, to the celebration of the Year 2000, should follow the teaching of Pope John Paul II outlined in his prophetic exhortation for the new millennium, Tertio Millennio Adveniente.

Our editorial vision since then has always looked to the teaching of the popes for inspiration and guidance, first with Pope John Paul II, then Pope Benedict and today with Pope Francis.

Fr Hocken first heard of the Charismatic Renewal in 1971 when studying in Rome. However, it was in England in that year, after attending a weekend conference on the gift of prophecy, that he had his first experience of the Holy Spirit.

Reflecting on this many years later he said: ‘The first effect I noticed was a joy and delight in the Lord. But also an inner conviction that Jesus is Lord. What was especially strong for me in the beginning was that Jesus is Lord of my life and the Lord of history. He isn’t just Lord theoretically, but Lord for today and of my life which means he rules today, he acts today, he is at work today and he’s at work through the Church and is working directly in people’s hearts. The scriptures came alive for me in a new and exciting way. This had a direct impact on the way I prepared my sermons. Before my experience of the Holy Spirit I used to prepare my sermons as I would a theological paper. However, from then I felt drawn to the chapel to pray and spend time before the Lord, on my knees.’

Central to Fr Hocken’s understanding and experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit was the way through it the scriptures came alive in a deeply personal and real way. One of the effects of this grace was that the Old Testament became a rich treasury of the revelation into God’s plan of salvation and the sending of Jesus. He would often point out that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit through Baptism in the Holy Spirit was the realization of how true are St Jerome’s dictums: ‘Christ is latent in the Old Testament and patent in the New Testament’, ‘The Old Testament is pregnant with Christ’ and ‘Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.’

The Bible as the living, breathing, inspired word of God has informed our approach to publishing Bible Alive and everything we do as a Catholic Publishing House.

The editorial board celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in our time and rejoice in the way in which, for lay and clergy alike, the Bible is a living book: alive, active, dynamic and life-giving.

Fr Hocken looked to the scriptures, the living tradition of the Church, the saints both ancient and new, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis and of course, the Holy Spirit, for inspiration, guidance and light. Our magazines, books and newspapers are rooted in a vision which is informed by the Holy Spirit, guided by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church and strengthened by daily conversion, repentance and prayer.

He drew a special strength and guidance from Dei Verbum and the Gift of Scripture, a document published by the Bishop’s Conference of England Wales. He saw in these documents a light and wisdom in both praying and living the scriptures in our daily walk with Christ. He always pointed to the bishops at Vatican II who urged each believer ‘to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . .
Let them go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles’’ (Dei Verbum, 25).

Through all our publications, but in a unique way through Bible Alive, our hope is to encourage our readers to respond to this invitation.

Fr Hocken had a great sense of how time was charged with God’s presence. He saw Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation as prophetic in the light of our mission in launching Bible Alive. ‘In November 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote a document called Tertio millennio adveniente, concerning the coming of the third millennium. The Pope reminds us that all of time has been made holy because of the coming of the Son of God into our world. Since the Incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, every moment in time has become charged with the presence of God and the salvation he offers the human race.’

This understanding of time was at the root of the daily meditations we write month after month. For each day is an opportunity to meet God, through his Son. As the Holy Father says: ‘Christians should turn with renewed interest to the Bible. In the revealed text it is the Heavenly Father himself who comes to us in love and who dwells with us, disclosing to us the nature of his only-begotten Son and his plan of salvation for humanity’ (TMA 40). As you pray and read the scriptures each day, allow God’s word to speak to you.
Fr Hocken believed it was our vocation as Catholic publishers  to be faithful to this vision and encourage our readers, Christians of all denominations and men and women of good will, to know the fruit, blessing and grace of scripture and in so doing draw close to the Father who loves us and gave his Son for us.

Fr Peter, along with other members of the editorial board in 1996, named the magazine ‘Bible Alive.’ They felt that the name Bible Alive was itself very much grounded in scripture. The writer to the Hebrews described the word of God as being like a two-edged sword, living and active (Hebrews 4:12). Our contributing writers testify that the Bible coming alive was a major part of a renewed experience of God, the grace of a second conversion. It is precisely from this experience of God, the rich treasure we have in the daily liturgy and an active prayer life that grace and insight is found to write the daily reflections which give life to thousands of readers around the world every day.

Since the launch of Bible Alive in June 1996 the magazine has gone from strength to strength, with over 60,000 readers, a worldwide outreach to prisoners and missionaries and a lively book publishing division which publishes the popular seasonal Walk with Me booklets in collaboration with Cardinal Vincent Nichols as well as a wide range of books and Christian resources.

We will always be grateful to Fr Peter for the key role he played in helping inform the editorial vision of Bible Alive and Alive Publishing in 1996!

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Learning the Language of the Holy Spirit

Pope Francis said recently: ‘Let us too ask for the grace of being able to hear what the Spirit says to our Church, to our community, to our parish, to our family, and for the grace to learn the language of the Holy Spirit.’

How often do we think, pray or say, before making a major (or indeed minor) decision:

‘Guide and lead me Holy Spirit?’

Do we turn to the Holy Spirit during our day for strength, for guidance and wisdom?’

How well do we know the language of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and our Advocate can be the neglected member of the Blessed Trinity. We are conscious of God as Father and turn to Jesus as our Savior but because we neglect to learn the language of the Holy Spirit we become dull and insensitive to the crucial role the Holy Spirit has in helping us live the Christian life.

St Augustine didn’t suffer from this neglect; he prayed:

‘O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams’.

St Catherine of Siena had a similar sense of excitement and dynamism in her appreciation of how crucial the Holy Spirit is in living the Christian life.

‘Enrich your soul in the great goodness of God: The Father is your table, the Son is your food, and the Holy Spirit waits on you and then makes His dwelling in you.’

From the very beginning we learn that the Holy Spirit played a crucial role in the drama of our salvation. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.

‘The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’ (Luke 1:35).

However, Jesus’ mission in which he performed miracles, taught and proclaimed the gospel, did not begin until he was anointed by the Holy Spirit.

St Peter preaching many years later highlighted just this point:

‘You know the word… which was proclaimed throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we were witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.’ (Acts 10:36-39).

After being baptized in the Spirit in the river Jordan, St Luke tells us that Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4;14). Jesus was quick to point out that the power he displayed in casting out demons was because of the Holy Spirit.

‘It is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons and the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ (Luke 11:28).

We learn the language of the Holy Spirit from Jesus. Jesus spoke Aramaic but he also spoke the language of the Spirit.

The first words he spoke on embarking on his public ministry were:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18).

He also taught that we would be given the language of the Holy Spirit for the task of evangelization:

‘Do not be anxious how you are to speak…. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’. (Matthew 10:19-20).

The language of the Holy Spirit is the language of God the Father. The first words of Jesus public ministry were:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ and his last were, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’

He delivered up his Spirit to the Father, he can send the same Holy Spirit to us. That’s why he had said,

‘It is to your advantage that I go away.’ (John 16:7).

St Paul proclaimed that it was the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead  (Romans 8:11):

‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you’.

We received the gift of the Holy Spirit through our Baptism; we were strengthened and anointed by the Holy Spirit when we received the sacrament of confirmation and the Holy Spirit is poured out when we receive any of the sacraments of the church. However, it isn’t only through the sacraments that we receive the Holy Spirit because God distributes special graces according to his pleasure and will. The vocabulary of the language of the Holy Spirit is: gifts (Isaiah 11:2), charisms (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) and fruits (Galatians 5:22-24). This teaching is very much rooted in the renewal began by the Second Vatican Council:

‘It is not only through the sacraments that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts as he wills (1 COR 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks for the renewal and building up of the Church. These charisms are to be received with thanksgiving because they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church.’ (Lumen Gentium 12).
We have been called to learn the language of the Holy Spirit by many of the popes of recent memory. Their familiarity and intimacy with the language of the Holy Spirit should inspire us to be a people of the Spirit. Paul VI, for example who carried on the work of the Council from Pope John XXIII said:

‘Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit? Certainly not! We want him, we honor him, and we love him. And you with your devotion, your fervor, your wish to live in the Spirit: this should be. It ought to rejuvenate the world, give it back a spirituality, a soul, a religious thought; it ought to reopen the world’s closed lips to prayer and open its mouth to song, to joy, to hymns, and to witnessing. It will be very fortunate for our time and for our brothers that there should be a whole generation your generation of young people – who shout out to the world the glory and greatness of the God of Pentecost.’

For Pope Emeritus Benedict every believer needs to grow familiar with the language of the Spirit, which he saw as the language of heaven:
‘Do not grow weary of turning to heaven: the world stands in need of prayer. It needs men and women who feel the attraction of Heaven in their life, who make praise to the Lord a new way of life. And may you be joyful Christians! I entrust you all to Mary Most Holy, present in the Upper Room at the event of Pentecost. Persevere with her in prayer, walk guided by the light of the living Holy Spirit, proclaiming the Good News of Christ.’

‘Wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).

This freedom, the freedom the Holy Spirit brings is the freedom to live a son or daughter of God, moving and living in the power of the Spirit and living the life in the Spirit. Pope Francis said;

‘There is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he will. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and every place.’

And so, we join our prayer to the prayer of the prophetic visionary of the Second Vatican Council, that man of the Spirit, who opened the windows of the church so that the Holy Spirit would breath his light, life and refreshment and create a new Pentecost so that we could speak not the language of our own strength but the language of the Holy Spirit.

‘Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost Grant to your church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of Jesus the Lord, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.’ (Pope John XXIII).