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Posts Tagged ‘Lourdes’

I was in Newark on Thursday, giving a Day of Reflection about the Internet and the Church (that’s for another time). We met in Holy Trinity Parish, and I had some great conversations about a huge pastoral project they are involved in. Supported by Lottery funding, and with the help of Regenerate Trust, they are part of a Neighbourhood Challenge pilot scheme that’s trying to find new ways of listening to the needs of the community and responding to those needs through the commitment of the community itself. You can read about it here.

Fr Michael gave me one great example of how listening with sensitivity and openness can bring about unexpected changes. Like most parishes, there was a vague feeling that they were not doing enough for young people, and an assumption that they should start some kind of youth club, which reflected another unspoken assumption that young people wanted to be alone together – isolated within their peer group, and cut off from other relationships with their parents, older or younger siblings, parishioners, neighbours etc.

But when, as part of this project, they actually started asking families what the young people really wanted/needed (I know these are not always the same thing), the answer was: a family evening. Not to stop young people gathering together with their peers; but to allow them to do that in a context where the whole family could be together as well, and where other families – and parishioners and neighbours – could spend time together. So they did it. And it worked!

This is from Caroline Hurst’s blog-post:

On Friday 5th August a group of volunteers arrived at the Community Centre a little apprehensive but very excited, waiting to see what the opening night of  Family Friday’s would hold.

It turned out that well over 50 people came down to the centre and the atmosphere was brilliant. Young people were out playing games on the field, people were playing table tennis and pool. The hot dogs were very well received and tasted great (so I am told) and the tuck shop also went down brilliantly with old and young alike! Adults were catching up with one another and young people were either joining in with their families, playing games or sitting having their own conversations. It was fantastic to see people interacting together so freely and the concerns about ages and parents being around appeared to be unfounded as a good time was had by all.

There were people of all ages there from under 5′s to over 60′s and the interactions were wonderful to see. Several people remarked on the night and since how surprised at the numbers and the success of the evening. All we can hope is that Family Fridays continue to grow and develop. When term time starts up hopefully the word will start to spread and that  even more people will interested in coming and seeing what is on offer of Family Friday’s down at Holy Trinity Community and Partnership Centre.

The peer group is important. And young people need space and a certain privacy. But they also value the security of knowing that parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbours, etc are around. In the right context, there can be a magical balance of freedom and belonging in this kind of environment.

You see this, if you are lucky, when extended families get together, and cousins chase around together while aunties and uncles sit and put the world to rights.

You see this in Lourdes, when part of the joy for young people is spending time with the elderly, loving them for who they are, and also being able to escape in their own groups later in the day.

You see this, sometimes, in village schools, where because of the lack of numbers, children are not isolated within their own age group, but have to share a classroom with those younger and older than themselves, with the result that all sorts of relationships can flourish that would be impossible in a single year group.

I know there are problems as well; I just think we should be a bit more critical of the hidden assumption that the deepest desire of everyone between the ages of 11 and 18 is to get away from anyone who isn’t their age.

[I’m just piecing this all together from a quick conversation with Fr Michael. If anyone from the parish wants to say more about the listening process behind the family nights – please do add your thoughts in the comments below].

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There are other kinds of healing that take place in Lourdes (see earlier post here), not least the healing of the relationship between those who are sick or disabled and those who are in good health.

I’ve always thought that the greatest miracle in Lourdes is the fact that you can go into a bar in a wheelchair or on a stretcher and order a beer without getting any strange looks from the staff or the other customers.

In one sense, the sick and disabled are given special treatment: special care in the hotels and hospitals, special places in the religious services, etc. But the really impressive aspect of Lourdes is that in the ordinary cultural life of the town – shops, bars, restaurants, cinemas – there is absolutely no distinction made between the sick and the healthy. They are all, equally, part of the same society.

In many ways attitudes to sickness and disability are getting better in Britain. But there are all sorts of contradictions, and I think this needs another post…

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I’m just back from Lourdes, the shrine to the Virgin Mary in the south of France. It’s a place of extraordinary healing.

The medical healings are well-documented. I was flicking through a magazine about the 67 ‘canonical’ cures over the last 150 years – those that have been officially recognised by the hard-nosed medical panel that sifts through the scientific evidence. I’m sure you can look them up on the internet somewhere.

I was struck this year by what you might call the ‘inter-generational healing’ that takes place in Lourdes. You see young people on pilgrimage, ordinary teenagers, spending time with the elderly. Doing ordinary things together – shopping, eating, drinking, partying, praying. Just hanging out together. The young not thinking that the elderly are boring or irrelevant. The elderly not feeling threatened or marginalised by the young. Appreciating each other for who they are, and growing in themselves through the process.

And this isn’t just an individual teenager showing devotion to a loved grandparent in the privacy of the parental home, which is not uncommon. It’s taking place in public, and it’s shared with their peers.

It makes you realise how strange most of Western society is, where young people and the elderly inhabit completely different territories, like two tribes living within the boundaries established in long forgotten wars.

It makes you wonder what is lost when different generations become alienated from each other, and what it would take to bring the strangeness of this inter-generational healing to the normality of a British high street.

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