A Pilgrimage with a Purpose
Fr Seamus Keenan
In October 2005, Fr Seamus Keenan (left) took a group of his parishioners on pilgrimage to Jordan, Galilee and Jerusalem, beginning with a visit to Misdar School in Amman. He said “Going on pilgrimage is a natural thing to do after such a project. It is good to meet the Christian students we have been helping”
What was this project? Fr Seamus explains, “Shortly after arriving in the parish of St Joseph’s Bedford in 2003, I initiated a project in support of the Christian community in the Holy Land. This took the form of raising funds to help equip and modernise a computer suite in Misdar School, Amman, Jordan, which falls under the responsibility of the Latin Patriarchate; a project organised through the Cambridge Nazareth Trust.” Back in June,
Fr. Emile Seamus
Fr Emile Salayta (right) came to our parish and told us: “This support means so much to the Christians in the Holy Land who at the moment feel isolated from the Christians in the rest of the world”. This helped us appreciate better the needs of the Church there and spurred us to continue our efforts to help. During the pilgrimage, Margaret Waddingham, a teacher, brought along Barnaby Bear to meet the students at Misdar School in their new computer suite funded by the Bedford Parish.
Barnaby Bear and computer
So how did a small parish raise the money? “Within the space of twelve months we raised £17,000. Our target was £11,700, so I was very pleased at the generous response of the people of the parish.” Various fund-raising activities helped towards achieving this amount: a parish variety concert, an Easter Egg raffle, a parish quiz, a parish dance, as well as other smaller events. The highlight, a sponsored 760 mile bicycle ride to Santiago de Compostela by the curate, Fr Gerard, and two parishioners, raised £4,000.
Suzanne and Michael Moloney on their ride with Fr Gerard
The pilgrims received a tumultuous welcome from the students, teachers and parish priest Fr Yacoub. One of the group, Suzanne Moloney, responded by singing the Ave Maria in Arabic. It was a memorable first day and a great start to the pilgrimage.
Fr. Seamus continues: “In conversation with Fr Yacoub, I suggested we keep up the link formed with the school by funding the cost of bringing a few students to Bedford for two weeks in the summer of 2006, staying with families in the parish and attending St Thomas More Upper School, Bedford. This was readily agreed. During our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we not only visited the holy shrines but made contact with the Christian community. We visited the parish of Bir Zeit in the West Bank near Ramallah. I was invited by Fr Aziz to preach the homily at their Sunday Mass. Afterwards we met several parishioners in the parish hall.
Barnaby Bear and Christian children at Bir Zeit
To my delight, Fr Aziz was able to visit Bedford in November, 2005 with two of his parishioners, and to concelebrate Saturday Mass in our Parish. In all this, not only have we managed to forge links with the Christians in the Holy Land in their need, it has also been beneficial to our parish by way of bringing the people together in our common desire to help our brothers and sisters in the land of Our Lord’s birth, who are the living stones of the Church there, still witnessing to Christ and his gospel.”
In June 2006, three Jordanian students, Fadi, Laith and Tala, with their teacher Amal from Misdar School, Amman, Jordan, travelled to Bedford as guests of St. Joseph’s Parish. This resulted in an action packed fortnight with the Jordanians being hosted by two Bedford families.
Jordanian visitors with the Bishop after Confirmation
The parishioners welcomed their visitors amidst their First Holy Communion and Confirmation celebrations. In the first week of their visit, the Jordanians visited all the Bedford Catholic schools and participated in a day’s retreat at Buckden Towers with sixth formers from St. Thomas More School and enjoyed a trip to the theatre in Milton Keynes to see ‘My Fair Lady’ (all able to understand the idioms). They joined a meeting of St. Joseph’s Youth Group and celebrated a Saturday mass at Walsingham, followed by a dip in the sea at Wells-next-the-Sea.
The second week was organised to give the visitors a wider view of England and the English, with a visit to Cambridge and its colleges, an expedition to Woburn Safari Park and its animals (in Jordanian temperatures) and a whistle stop one day tour of London and its major sights – even Tower Bridge was opened for them. Barbeques (in English temperatures!) and shopping expeditions were slotted in as well.
Here are some of the group’s own special memories…
St Joseph’s church is a very peaceful and lovely place where we had very special memories. Experiencing Mass in English was great as we learnt how to glorify God in another language. The Youth group of St Joseph’s is so friendly. We loved meeting and sharing with them and with Fr. Seamus.
The Jordanian visitors with Head and students from St. Gregory’s Middle School
Attending other schools was really exciting. Seeing and knowing how children behave and learn was magnificent as dealing with children in our opinions is very difficult and having the opportunity to discuss about our school in the Holy Land was great.
Attending St Thomas More Catholic School was really a very exciting experience. We learnt about the way schools in England do work.
It was different to us, we were surprised by the big school, the educational system. The warm welcoming of the staff and the students was a great motivation for us to learn more.
The parish of St Joseph’s was such big and second family for us. We felt very comfortable as everybody was very welcoming to us and wanted to know more about the Holy Land, which gave us the opportunity to communicate with others. They deal with us as we are their children and there are no words can express our feelings for them.
In February 2008,years seven and eight at St. Gregory’s School, also in Bedford, organised another fund raising appeal in Lent, which raised over £300. The staff and pupils at Al Ashrafieh are so grateful for their generosity of spirit, kindness and support. A laudable example of ‘Children helping Children’.