Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Palm trees, Pancakes and Prayer - Part 1

Day One: The Adventure Begins

Pre flight joy Post flight pain

After waiting for Fr Francis to wake up, we arrived safely at the airport where Laura and Fr Kevin were searched (rather intrusively to be honest!). They must have looked suspicious or something...!

Meeting up with our fellow travellers, we set up camp in the giraffe bar for breakfast and mega lols. 
Then we boarded the plane and began our 11 HOUR TOILSOME JOURNEY. On the flight we ate constantly, Lizi managed to wangle a first class meal for herself and made friends with the air host (or whatever you call a male air hostess...), chatted, slept, endured clergy bants and got stupidly excited about the mini screens and all the movies. 
A few days later, we arrived finally in LA, which was really humid and we got two mini vans to our Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Having attempted to make ourselves look slightly more human having endured the flight, we met up in the bar of the hotel for dinner and drinks. Laura had minestrone soup (very American) and Lizi shared a burger and fries with Fr Francis. We also found out that there is photographic evidence somewhere of Fr Francis and Fr Kevin as ugly sisters.... 
As the evening gathered around us we took a stroll with Fr Kevin, Francis and Maria down the boulevard, admiring the palm trees and incredible straight and wide roads. 
Our group are entertaining and young at heart. There are four priests, two from Nottingham diocese and Fr Francis and Fr Kevin OD. The ladies are Maria from Beaconsfield, Ronnie from Langley and Angela and Julia from the diocese of Nottingham. Everyone was in good spirits and we had much Catholic bants. Looking forward to Celia and Anne from Princes Risborough joining us tomorrow!

We're off to stumble into our queen sized beds now after the longest day EVER but are excited about what tomorrow and the rest of the week brings! Pray for us :) 


Day Two: California Dreaming

Today was our first full day in LA, woop! We began with a traditional early morning American breakfast at Coco's diner of pancakes, bacon and eggs which were incredible. After a spot of shopping in Target we joined the rest of the group for our trip to Newport beach for whale watching. The weather was gorgeous and before boarding we treated ourselves to a play on the swings in the sand and an ice cream, which was tasty!  

On board the boat we relaxed enjoying the sunshine and each others company discussing what we'd call our boatas the Sun speckled on top of the ocean's surface like a thousand glistening diamonds. Lizi's was 'the Bus' and Laura's was 'Magestic'. 

Quite early we spotted a grey whale jumping up and down in the water. It was incredible to see suchan amazing creation so vast and so close. They had a drone camera filming the whale which also made it easier for us to spot him. We also saw loads of playful comet dolphins swimming so close to the boat in beautiful patterns. It was so relaxing to sit basking in the Sun and enjoy and get to know each other better.

After this Lizi was starving so she dragged the priests and Angela to a yummy seafood restaurant for a fishy and nacho snack whilst Laura went with the others for a paddle in the sea and battled resisting to jump in and swim towards the Sun! The sand was so soft and golden on our feet. 
Back at the hotel, we braved the swimming pool which was freezing and spent ages in the Jacuzzi discussing life with Fr Francis. Then we all wined and dined in a local steakhouse joined by Celia and Anne who looked incredible after their long flight earlier today. Lizi had BBQ chicken and chips and Laura had steak and potatoes (classic Irish).
Feeling exhausted, full and slightly sunburnt we flopped back to the hotel and fell into a deep sleep. Looking forward to more fun tomorrow. Can't believe another fantastic day here has come to an end. Hope you're all enjoying the freezing cold :)

Day Three: Welcome to the Hotel California


Today we went on a tour of LA with our main man Kev and his little chiwawa Pinkie!  We began with a visit to St Mary of the Angel's Cathedral. After Lizi broke one if their fancy glass candle holders, we were filled with wonder as we looked at the tapestries of the saints! These males and female saints of our tradition stood side by side and looking towards God as we do in Mass. Each saint reminded us about how God works by raising up men and women both young and old to give of themselves in aspecial way to make our world a better place.

Next stop: Hollywood. We walked along the walk of fame, searching for our favourite celebs and put our feet on the red carpet which on Sunday will be used for the Oscars! We marvelled at how everyone in Hollywood is trying to 'make it' and be discovered and this edginess could be felt on the streets. There we had lunch and met an ex Argentinean footballer who played for United and Chelsea! 

Afterwards we drove through the streets of LA to Venice beach, the biggest hippy beach ever! We hung out on the golden sand and paddled our feet in the sea (some getting more soaked than others due to Fr Francis' encouragement...) and watched the surfers riding the vigorous waves. We got an ice cream before hopping on the tour bus, soaking wet and made our wayback to the hotel.

That evening we joined the rest of the group at Bubba Gump's, a Forrest Gump inspired restaurant. The waiter quizzed us about the film which was entertaining and drew out some competitive sides! We also played two truths and a lie with the priests and Lizi tried shrimps for the first time (although turns our shrimps are just scampi which she has all the time...) and enjoyed them and Laura had a veggie mushroom burger. We had amazing blueberry lemonade and strawberry lemonade. Was lovely to catch up with everyone and have a laugh. 
Can't wait for tomorrow! :)

Day Four - The Congress Commences!

The 2016 RE congress officially began today, and it did so in a really exciting way! there were dancers and music and an atmosphere of festivity. We’ll never forget the feeling of amazement that hit us when we ascended the steps of the arena and saw around us the vastness of the stadium packed full of eager Catholics. Archbishop Gomes spoke about how as Catholics we need to show the world what it means to be merciful, and with that we headed toward our first talk. 

Laura’s was about the role of youth ministry in the Church. It was led by a lady called Katie Prejean who spoke about how it is not us that does anything, rather it is God who works through us. It seems as we grow closer to Christ we need to learn more and more to get out of His way! Which is really difficult!

Lizi’s was called, ‘Blessed are the disenchanted: Finding God in a world of meh’ by Sarah Hart (not a typo of men!). This involved some singing, input and group discussion so it was a good chance to chat to others, although Lizi was suddenly very aware of her English accent! Sarah kicked off by asking us all to set our alarms for 10.26 and then she mentioned that we are driven to disctration in a world of madness. Then all the alarm noises went off, illustrating our madness and many alarms and things that we get distracted by. In this chaos, she said we could find God in three ways: 

1. Recognising our longing - she read the passage of when Jesus called his disciples. They didn’t ask any questions, they just got up and followed him. She suggested maybe sometimes we misplace our longings for God, but that God knows what it is that we are really longing for.

2. Letting go - this was linked with the feeding of the 5,000. Interestingly she highlighted that out of 5,000 people, more than one person must have had food but only one was willing to share. Because of that one person letting go, 5,000 shared. This reminded us of the importance of putting our effort in to just one person to minister to them, as we don’t know how God will use them, and that God can use us to do great things, we just have to be willing to step out and be generous. We must let go of ourselves and let God take control and others come before us.  

3. Choosing Christ daily - we reflected on Jesus and the Great Catch and the fact that after following Jesus, the disciples had returned to their old lives. She asked us how often do we return to our old lives after our mountain top experiences or attending the sacrament of reconciliation? We must choose Christ daily and get into a routine, even though this can be challenging.

For lunch we went to I-Hop with the priests. This was a cool time for us because we came to know them a lot more. We shared snippets of our stories and our journeys with God. It became clear that absolutely none of us had it all “figured out” - not even the priests! we were all just stumbling along, trying to make sense of His mysterious ways and failing and screwing up a lot in the process. And yet, here we are. 

We had the LOLs and they spoke to us about their ministries. One of the things that came up was how important it if for them to have a supportive network around them. In all ministries, as in all areas of life, to have a support system you can turn to is pivotal.

After lunch Laura got to meet her hero: Bishop Robert Barron. Fr Francis queued with us for an hour to get his
 autograph, and Laura was like a kid pumped full of sugar! Bishop Barron happily signed the book and chatted away to Laura which ingrained onto her face a stupidly happy smile that lasted for the rest of the day! (no joke). 

When evening came we were shattered. Along with Fr Francis we went to the cheesecake factory. We had a small meal so we’d have plenty of room for some delicious cheesecake. On the way home we met David Wells - an English speaker - who has to be one of the happiest men ever! 

We’re looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings! :)