Sat - Congress Continues!
We began our day with another American styled breakfast and we went to the arena a little earlier so we could find seats for sister Helen Prejean’s talk.
When we arrived the morning praise was just finishing so we caught some of the talk. Margaret Matijasevic was sharing her story and encouraging us to do the same and be present in our stories. She suggested we use social media positively and view it as a prayer list. As we scroll through our news feeds we should pray for our friends - celebrate their joys and offer God their struggles. She used trending hashtags in her prayer too - very inspirational and such a simple tool to bring prayer in to every day life. She claimed that this jubilee year is about vulnerability and surrender.
Sr Helen Prejean spoke next, and was described as ‘not a quiet nun’. She is incredible! She is 5 foot nothing, and looks completely harmless, and yet, she has a fierceness of spirit that really inspired us. She spoke about her job as a sister working with prisoners that are on death row. The film “Dead man walking” was based upon her book. She said Jesus was sneaky and warned us to ‘watch out, sneaky Jesus!’ (remember, American accent!) Straight after her talk, with our hearts beating within us, we went straight to the book stall to buy her book. Later that day, Lizi got to meet Sr Helen who complimented her on how intelligent sounding the English accent is!
Laura’s first workshop was about the role of young adults in the Church. The speaker was a very animated young man who jumped around and shouted a lot. Although his histrionics were slightly over the top, the central points he made were really good: he focused on the importance of prayer. We cannot give what we don’t have, and in order to “have” anything to give, we need to start praying regularly and seriously. God speaks to us when we listen to Him, but do we listen enough?
Lizi listened to Dr Robert J.Wicks’ talk on Availability - the Challenge and gift of being present to others, ourselves and God. Speaking as a therapist he gave some interesting interpretations on life and shared his journey. He spoke about us not being available enough to God; too busy to pray and too stimulated to be present. He said we should take time out and be available, otherwise our lives loose its spirituality. We need to be mindful and in there now with our eyes wide open. He encouraged us to adopt a Gospel and read it, overlearn it and experience it, to walk through it in our hearts.
Laura’s second workshop was about the priest and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen. Again it was an excellent workshop. Nouwen wrote a lot about the importance of realising that our identities do not depend on the things we do, or the ‘stuff’ we own, or even what other people think about us. Our identitiesrely on us knowing that we are beloved sons and daughters of God. The rest of the stuff doesn’t matter. When this truth really penetrates our hearts then we become free and then we flourish into the people God dreamed us to be.
Lizi spent some time in the Sacred Space in Adoration and the various prayer stations. There were prayer stations set up to reflect on Human Traffiking which were really powerful. There was also a prayer labyrinth that you could walk round as you pray. It was good giving you the discipline to spend a good length of time in prayer. It was good to take some time out to digest all that had been shared and discussed so far.
That evening Laura, Fr Francis and Lizi went to Disneyland! Which was incredible. We planned it meticulously so that before the park closed we managed to get onto all the scariest and fastest roller-coasters. One of them Laura massively dummed down so we didn’t have high expectations but it was surprisingly scary! It was also amusing hearing the American’s exclaiming, ‘Ohhh myyy gawwwd!’. We again had some fruitful discussions whilst in the line for the rides, showing the importance of building relationships and journeying with each other. Laura’s favourite ride was the Hollywood Tower of Terror which mercilessly drags you up and down as you sit in an elevator shaft with 10 other people (Lizi watched the bags for that one!) We danced on the street in the disney parade, watched the fireworks, got pictures with Walt Disney and breathed in the wonder of Disney. As we entered the park the lady at the desk told us to “enjoy the magic” and we did ☺
Sunday - Congress Concludes :(
Having had a more leisurly morning, we headed up to the congress for our first workshop, which we went to together for once! This was Fr James Martin who was a total joker, speaking on ‘Meeting Jesus’. He studied scripture, focussing on the fact that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. Jesus understands our physical and spiritual suffering. We particularly focussed on Jesus on the cross, when he called out, “My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?” and discussed whether Jesus felt hopeful here, or abandoned. He also spoke about Blessed Mother Teresa and the fact that she had an intense closeness to God. She heard Jesus’ voice asking her to work with the poor, but then nothing, she suffered from an emptiness in prayer but continued serving the Lord. This was quite reassuring for us in our dry moments of prayer with God.
Laura’s second workshop was a singing one. It was run by an Irish priest named Liam Lawton. He spoke about the Celtic tradition of the anam cara – the soul friend. Interestingly the practice of spiritual direction can be traced back to this ancient practice whereby one person would reveal glimmerings of their soul’s pilgrimage to another. Laura thought this workshop would be a bit “harmless” but in the end it was really enjoyable and insightful.
For the closing Liturgy we managed to mostly all sit together. It was incredible with prayerful music, talented singers, beautifully read and dramatised scripture, dancers carrying incense. There was also a time of praying for those who will be accepted into the church at Easter. It was great to stand together as the enormous Catholic Church and encourage each other in faith, hope and love. We love Mass!!!
In the evening we went as a group to an Italian resturant next door, where Maria had booked us the Pope’s room. It was a room covered in photos of previous Popes, with the bust of Pope John Paul !! (we think!) in the centre on a lazy Susan! All very odd but friendly and Fr Kevin insisted we play a Pope’s quiz. Northampton definately knew more than Nottingham!! It was a huge celebration of the fantastic time we’d had together. Fr Francis told the waiter th
at it was Angela’s birthday so when they can out with the candelia and the dessert it was hilairious but she went along with it and seemed to enjoy it!!
So sad we fly home tomorrow :(
Monday - Sweet Home Alabama
The taxi that would take us to the air port was due at 12. This meant we had a few hours left in L.A. and of course Lizi and Laura decided to spend a bulk of this time in I-Hop eating pancakes – our last US pancakes for a while… full and pancake-ed up we headed to Disneyland where we bought presents for those at home and drew in the happy atmosphere of this special place one last time. The lion King song was playing the background and made us nostalgic for our Disney filled childhoods!
On the plane home we sat with Fr Francis who we discovered to be the best plane sleeperever! He was out like a baby after dinner and didn’t stir for the whole journey! He also happens to be a really tidy sleeper; there was no snoring, no drool, no talking or spluttering – literally like a baby.
The journey home went much quicker than the journey there, and before we knew it we had reached Heathrow and the accompanying sleet, wind and rain. We had heard that on the plane that the actor Michael Fassbender whose famous girlfriend Alicia Vikander had just won an Oscar a few days previous, was on the plane. When we were collecting our baggage Fr Francis spotted them and there were papz snapping them as they embraced. We thought the papz were there for us :P
We said goodbye to one another and went our separate ways, with Laura and Lizi leaving with Fr Kevin, Ronnie and Fr Francis. Back at Fr kevin’s presbytery we had a salutary cup of tea before leaving Slough and our LA adventure behind. It will remain always in our hearts and in our memories. Indeed, we agreed that one of the most beautiful things about this trip was the relationships that were fostered. Perhaps it was the fact that we were outside England, or maybe it was the gorgeous sunshine and easy going LA demeanor, but something about this week freed us of our inhibitions and our limitations, and we really came to know one another in an unguarded way. We left for LA as strangers and came back as friends.