TIDINGS OF TŶ MAM DUW 2017
Loving greetings to all our friends, old and new, far and wide, as 2017 enters its final lap, and we look forward to celebrating once again the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in its assurance of the saving love and mercy He offers to everyone without exception in every age. We are so blessed to know His constant presence through all the ups and downs of history, and the ordinary and not-so-ordinary events of our own lives.
This past year has been an exciting and challenging one for us all. All rumours to the contrary, some of which have filtered back to us from various sources, we are all still alive and well and living at Tŷ Mam Duw! But as our dear Pope Francis loves to say, our God is a God of surprises, and we have taken seriously his injunction. Allow yourself to be surprised by God. Don’t be frightened of surprises. They shake the ground from under your feet, and they make us unsure. But they move us forward in the right direction. More of that later in this Tidings, but we will start by recalling the events of the last two months of 2016, since our last newsletter.
Despite the weather having turned bitterly cold with a hard frost all day, about 70 people turned out for our Advent Carol Service. It took its theme, that of knocking down walls and building bridges, a favourite topic of Papa Francisco, from the opening paragraphs of our Tidings written a few weeks before. Several Sisters had constructed a wall of cardboard boxes for dramatic effect! This was demolished carefully a ‘brick’ at a time, and built into the sides of a ‘bridge’ on which a number of us stood to form a chain of human hands - it was a delight to see the faces of the congregation light up when we reached out for the hands of those nearest, after which all present joined hands and we sang together wholeheartedly Nothing is impossible to you, Lord Jesus! The service ended with a medley of carols played by Sr Seraphina, with the theme echoed in the refrain: Stone upon stone, our words and actions, are building up a bridge and tearing down walls. We choose to build a manger for the Lord.
Over the years the custom has evolved of our drawing the name of another Sister to be one’s star-partner, of praying for her especially during Advent, decorating her cell door (without being detected!), helping her in any way possible, and making a small gift to be left at her refectory place on Christmas Day. On opening them we discover or at least try to guess the identity of the Sister who had oneself as a ‘star-partner’. As those who are less mobile cannot get upstairs to the dormitory easily, last Advent we were each assigned a large window and window-sill in the cloister with our star-partner’s name over it, to decorate to give her pleasure. The fourteen windows ended up sporting a host of colourful angels with plenty of stars and cotton wool snow, and a variety of silhouette stables and mangers, as well as some 3D ones. These took shape gradually, with the ox and ass and other figures being added day by day till at last the longed-for Christchild duly arrived on the scene!
This year we had our “shepherds’ Mass”, as we term it, early, so enabling the infirmary Sisters to be present as we kept watch before the manger in choir, bringing our offerings of music, song or poetry, to the Bambino. This year they included a vibrant traditional song of welcome sung by a Kenyan novice who was staying with us, and Christmas songs from our Sr Lourdes and Sr Seraphina, our two Filipino Sisters. Other items included Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (a simplified version) played on a keyboard and flute, a nonsense poem by A. A. Milne to amuse the Christchild, and Sr Pia’s setting to music of a much-loved poem by Chesterton which begins:
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The cribs erected round the house were as varied and creative as ever, each of them expressing our wish to give the newborn Christchild a welcome and a home in our hearts. In December a group of young people from the diocese who had been to World Youth Day in Cracow came for the day. They took part in a praise and worship session in choir in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and later we acted out for them a light-hearted sketch on an angel arriving at the shopping mall in nearby Broughton, looking for a shepherd to whom he could announce the good news of Christ’s coming.
Our year ended on a more serious note - on New Year’s Eve Dear Mother spoke to us all asking our prayers and serious reflection on our way forward as a community.
We found ourselves facing critical material problems. Our boiler, which had developed a dismaying hole, but which we were assured was still safe to use, was like the rest of our heating system on its last legs, and cost of replacement was well beyond us. Other major structural problems were also looming large, uppermost the need to further extend the infirmary. We had already grassed in part of the garden as its general upkeep was becoming difficult. So the thought of moving elsewhere in the diocese was foremost in our minds and prayers as 2017 dawned.
Our Poor Clare life, especially the Divine Office, the prayer of the Church through which we praise the Lord and intercede for all His people throughout the world, draws its vitality and effectiveness from the Eucharistic celebration, a crucial element for any religious community, and above all for a contemplative one such as ours. Despite the growing shortage of priests and the closing of parishes, the Vocation Fathers in Holywell, together with Fr Abraham of Saltney and Fr Paul Shaw of Chester, have been wonderfully generous in celebrating our daily conventual Mass since the illness and death of our dear Canon Quigley.
We began the New Year with a prayer vigil and the reading of Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace, a necessary reminder for our increasingly violent world, in which he stated: The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organised pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.
Our Christmastide recreations ended on the lighthearted side with a performance of Aladdin as the grand finale. It was billed as a Pantomime, a fancy dress party and a banquet all rolled into one. Almost all of us had a part, and we were invited to choose our own costumes from the dressing-up department - or to create new ones if we so wished - that of Sr Anežka as the Genie of the Lamp was particularly exotic and original.
The performance took place in the refectory, where a large piece of material had been set up as a giant screen. The backdrops were designed by Sr Juliana, with Sr Ruth supplying the accompanying rather complex visual effects, which were projected on to the screen from behind. Halfway through the play, when Aladdin married his bride, the beautiful Princess Badruleboudoir, we were invited to the wedding banquet, laid on by the production team, who had spent several mornings working hard in the kitchen. As we had had no time for any rehearsal together, there were a number of human uncertainties and a mare’s nest of digital complications, but these only added to the general laughter - and we ended up on the same wavelength as the characters in the play whom the last line assured us ‘all lived happily and adventurously ever after.’
The infirmary Sisters invited the rest of us to their quarters one afternoon, a lovely room overlooking a lawn with silver birches. Sr Agatha and Sr Seraphina our two infirmarians, seated us all at decorated tables and served us a delicious meal . Afterwards we divided into groups and played games for much of the afternoon. These varied from a form of Ludo to Snap, and Yahtzee (which consists in throwing five dice and scoring according to various combinations of the numbers you get). This was followed by a special Vespers there with hymns and prayers they had chosen and reflections by our Beloved Mother Francesca on St Clare and Christmas.
In January our dear Mother Damian and Sr Agatha had the joy of attending a meeting of the Manchester Schoenstatt group at their shrine. They were overwhelmed by its beauty and its atmosphere, and very impressed by the way those present, Schoenstatters from four different parishes. worked together harmoniously planning events for the coming months. They went on to the parish where Fr Andrew Pastore, whom we have known since his teens, was celebrating a special Mass for his 50th birthday. They felt very touched by the way the faces of the people present lit up when they saw them, and by the great welcome all round.
Our craft day at the end of February was a great success, as were additional ones later in the year, which taught a wide variety of crafts. We had 21 people confirmed as coming, so hadn’t anticipated more than thirty - however, by midday about fifty people were here for it, including a number of young children as it was half term. One bright five-year old amused us all by deciding exactly what she wanted to make and going about it with great enthusiasm and a fair degree of success! It was a bit of a squash, but a happy one, and we managed to make enough sandwiches to go round. The crafts we showed this time included crochet (an Easter chicken), card-making, and candle-decorating.
That same week our friends Liz and Steve Halsall came and showed us slides of their recent trip to the Holy Land. Later in the year Margaret Hinton also visited us to speak of the splendid work of Dementia Friends in this diocese. She emphasised how those with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia could still often lead a basically normal life in many ways, if their difficulties were more understood and they were treated with the loving care and respect due to them. We learned much from her talk and were only too glad to assure her of our ongoing prayer support for the enterprise.
Lent saw us having a major tidy-up of the monastery and grounds as we had a property surveyor coming round. We filled a skip in the front garden with unused metal and wooden items, old bits of corrugated iron, etc. We also dismantled a small old greenhouse and its shelving as storm Doris roared round the house, bringing down some smaller trees in the garden. Sr Elizabeth and Sr Anežka valiantly moved a large pile of cut branches from one end of the property to the other and we had a splendid bonfire.
The following week Dear Mother went to Rome to consult the Congregation for Religious about various matters as they have direct responsibility for our community. With her also went Mother Lilly of the Poor Clares at Bulwell in Nottingham, with whom we have been in close touch since 2007. Over the years we have been providing help in many ways and, where necessary, some coaching for those from overseas who needed to pass a complicated English exam in order to stay in Britain. Sr Beatrix was their main tutor, and when they were visiting us she took them through the examples of earlier tests available online.
Dear Mother and Mother Lilly had the opportunity to visit the Oratory in Rome, and see all the relics of St Philip Neri, and even his bedroom and private chapel. (St Philip tended to celebrate Mass privately because of his proneness to ecstasies and levitation at times of worship.) They also visited St Peter’s, the basilicas of St Mary Major, St Paul’s outside the walls, and St John Lateran. There was high security everywhere, though Pope Francis was away with the Curia on their Lenten retreat, but people were basically very friendly, and Dear Mother who had not expected to like Rome, felt quite at home there.
The day after her return home, she and two other Sisters from our community attended Flame, a big gathering of ten thousand young Catholics in Wembley Stadium. They later showed us photos they had taken, together with videoclips of the main singers and speakers, and told us how encouraging and inspiring they had found it.
We too played our part in sharing the good news of the gospel during Lent in which Fr Paul Shaw came from Chester on two occasions with a group for a time of praise and worship. The first was an ecumenical one of 27 people. They shared with us in a Taizé-style Vespers, with the lighting of votive lights round a copy of the San Damiano cross. For some it was the first time they had had contact with contemplative nuns and they were keen to know more about our life and what brought us here. It was altogether a happy and positive encounter. The second group comprised a dozen or so university students, as he is the Catholic chaplain at Chester University. A number of them were apparently Hindu, but all seemed happy to be here, asked a lot of questions over tea and biscuits afterwards, and were pleased to know we would be praying for them in exams that were coming up.
We learned sadly that morning that there had been a major explosion shortly after 9 pm the evening before in Bebington, which is about 12 miles away from us as the crow flies. It was thought to have been caused by a gas leak, and reduced buildings there to rubble injuring a number of people. We had heard the sound, but did not know what it was - though some of us were anxious that children might be letting off fireworks uncomfortably near our house, as they have been known to do occasionally.
After the many hours spent in March tidying the garden and greenhouse on sunny days and on wet ones having a major spring clean indoors, we were glad when every inch of the house had been duly attended to (and a number of missing objects had turned up!). So we really appreciated a quiet week in retreat with The Gift. The course, which comprises two DVDs on the gift of the Holy Spirit was very much after the heart of our dear Pope Francis. With plenty of quiet time for prayer and reflection after each episode, we all benefited greatly from it, and would highly recommend it for parish or youth groups.
For the Feast of the Annunciation Sr Juliana had compiled a slide presentation, The heard Word became flesh. It comprised photos of Sr Amata as Our Lady, with a poetic script written some years ago, rendered in chant and in choral speech. Sr Ruth helped contribute to the graphics effects, and the production was altogether memorably lovely.
This year most of us were encouraged to try our hand at composing some new responsories and other music for Holy Week and Eastertide. From these we compiled a series of small booklets for the Divine Office, easy to handle along with our breviaries, and with room for future additions as the liturgical year moves on. Also we now have a rota of Sisters playing different instruments at our daily Mass.
On Good Friday morning we had the Gospel way of the Cross in choir, combining it with some of the psalms and readings of Matins. Each Sister gave a reflection on a Station of the Cross, with Sr Anežka, pondering on the words of the dying Lord to the Good Thief. She acted out the latter’s fall into evil ways and his being wrapped round and bound by sin, by stapling together a series of black rubbish bags and gradually winding them round herself till she was completely entangled. Eventually at the Lord’s forgiving words on the cross all that bound her fell away completely and she was freed to walk straight and tall into Paradise beside Him.
Fr Roberto came from Holywell for the Good Friday service in the afternoon, and the tomb in which we placed the figure of the dead Christ was in the form of an upturned boat, in memory of the thousands of migrants who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean in recent years.
After a shortened Easter Vigil on Easter Eve, with just the basic elements and readings, we had our own paraliturgical service in the morning, acting out or meditating on the readings which had had to be omitted earlier because of the time factor. The full creation account from Genesis was read in the lively Message version, illustrated by a computer presentation compiled from ‘Br Pacifico’s’ circular-shaped patterns. Then we acted out the tale of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Sr Anežka and Sr Bakhita did a two-part presentation on the the call of Moses to liberate his people through the power of God from bondage and oppression and violence, relating it to the situations in our world today. This was in dialogue form, partly acted out as on a TV screen, and partly through a home-made video.
The final excerpt, that from Ezekiel, was on God’s promise to replace the stony hearts of his people with natural hearts of flesh. We were each given a stone and the flag of a particular country - Syria, Russia, the United States, the Philippines, Britain, Burundi etc. We handed the stones by turn to Dear Mother who was seated by the tabernacle. Then we embedded the flag in a sphere of oasis representing the world, as Sr Juliana read out a recent newscast dealing with the problems and sufferings of that country. Dear Mother after trying in vain to break the ‘stony hearts’ with a hammer, placed them in a bowl of blessed baptismal water to dissolve them and drew from it new (plastic!) hearts, each with the name of the country on, for us to pin to our kerchiefs and hold especially in our own hearts and prayers before the Risen Lord.
With May being the springtime month of Our Blessed Lady, we had devotions in her honour every evening to which a number of people came, each time centred round a specific picture or statue of her. Every day a Sister or several together chose the picture, arranging homegrown flowers, coloured drapes, candles etc, choosing hymns, music, readings, and prayers for the occasion. The images used ranged from Our Lady of Kibeho (Rwanda), to Our Lady Untier of Knots (a devotion dear to the heart of Pope Francis), and a picture we ourselves had entitled Our Lady Queen of Housewives!
At a time when terrorist attacks, especially the appalling one in Manchester, dominated the news, Pope Francis remained one of the few positive sources of inspiration. We much enjoyed watching the coverage of his visit to Egypt at the end of April. We were especially moved by the welcome he received there from Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church, and from so many people of good will, despite the state of emergency in that country due to the recent violence against Christian churches. One of the shots showed a short motorcade from one venue to another. All the official cars had their windows tightly shut, except that of Pope Francis, who had his window open and was leaning out of it waving at passers-by! He must have given the security men a headache! The next week we saw his 24 hour pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal for the centenary of the appearance of Our Lady there to some young children in 1917. The last shot we saw after the Mass at which he canonised two of the young visionaries, was of him waving a white handkerchief, as did the thousands of others present in farewell to Our Lady, with tears in his eyes as her statue was carried back to its usual place in the shrine there.
For our own grand finale of the Marian devotions we used the wooden statue of Our Lady and her Child which has pride of place in our refectory. Its choir setting was rich in colour with almost all our colourful drapes and tall candles on tall stands, and towards the end of the devotions a floral crown descended slowly from on high together with a dainty shower of rose petals. The concluding medley of Marian hymns, played by Sr Seraphina on the keyboard, was sung with much enthusiasm.
Our own Holy Mother St Colette continues to be popular, with people coming regularly to be blessed with her veil. Notable among them was a large group of travellers over here from Dublin, who came one day.. They numbered about forty all told, counting the many small children, and we sang Blessed be the hour while Dear Mother blessed them all with the relic, with a family at a time gathering under the veil containing it.
We had various minor community ventures during the summer months, including a barbecue celebration for several combined birthdays. Dear Mother gave us each three knitted squares from a quantity that had been given in, and invited us to do something creative with them, adding other materials if we so wished. Results ranged from a very simple figure (which could have passed as Our Lady as the squares used were blue!) to more general crib figures, a hang-down for a lectern, a baby’s blanket, a child’s shoulder bag, several small rabbits and a strange but charming dragon-like creature which we were told existed before the Flood! These all later ended up in our small craft shop.
In July we farewelled Fr Luigi, who was moving on to London, thanking him for his spiritual support, not only of us but of the pupils at St Richard Gwyn, where he was chaplain. He had accompanied those who went to the memorable World Youth Day in Cracow last year, and this year joined us with several young people for a weekly Sycamore Course in our dining room. We were also touched by Fr Roy’s enterprise to raise money for poor students back in India. He did a sponsored sky-dive at Nottingham, something he’d never done before, jumping out of an aeroplane three miles up. Few of us would have had the nerve for it, though we hear that an elderly lady of 97 set her heart on doing one - it is presumably the nearest thing to flying like a bird - and lived to tell the tale!
With it being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Fr Paul Shaw came to give us a fascinating talk on related events in Chester in those tumultuous times. We wonder what Luther and Pope Leo X, who excommunicated him, would have made of an unusual ecumenical celebration here in September. We had the joy of welcoming a group of 35 people from the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), who for a number of years have been incorporating simple dance forms into their liturgy. They had learned that we too sometimes use dance in our worship, and we had a very creative day sharing our experiences in that line, Poor Clares and Lutherans dancing together to the glory of God! We produced backing tracks for the dancing, including several based on Taizé tunes, and one derived from the sound waves emitted by the Higgs boson particle, discovered recently by physicists. In one of her talks Sr Juliana used a very telling image. She said: I asked Mother Francesca, what she thought was the first movement of the human person, and she said ‘an outstretched hand’. On our noticeboard last year was a picture of a doctor performing surgery on an expectant mother, which required an insertion in the womb - and out of it there reached a small embryonic hand which grasped his finger firmly. The first human gesture does not seek to possess but to relate. Look at your hand. Look at the miracle of the prehensile grip. Can a dolphin peel a boiled egg? Can a bear file its nails? Can you carry your backpack in your beak like a bird?! You were made to dance, It is the only art form which requires no medium but yourself.
Which brings us back to our own reaching out as a community to the future. In May we learned that Bishop Peter was regretfully unable to help us in our suggestion that we might be linked to a parish church in the diocese, and we began to think about moving farther afield. In June, Dear Mother and Sr Agatha went to visit the Bulwell monastery, to meet structural engineers and drainage people who were assessing the state of the building and grounds as part of a general register by the Nottingham Diocese of church property.
On 27 September the Bulwell Sisters celebrated the 90th anniversary of the coming of their foundresses to Nottingham in 1927, and invited us for the special Mass for the occasion. Several of us made a series of sizeable posters to decorate the parish church and hall for the event, and others went the day before to help with other necessary preparations. There we met some of our Sisters from Ellesmere, who had also arrived. Only three Sisters remained behind at Hawarden to hold the fort, and we took some videoclips to show them on our return home.
Before the evening Mass Bishop McKinney came out to the enclosure garden to plant an anniversary pear tree there, braving the rain to do so, and we all accompanied him. He then saw us briefly in the community room and then adjourned to the choir to bless a new tabernacle there. During the Mass in the large parish church with a packed congregation, all of us Poor Clares processed up the central aisle to pews near the front. The Bishop preached movingly on the value of our life of prayer and of prayer in general. At the offertory we came forward with a poster expressing our vow of enclosure and then processed for the rest of the Mass into the Sisters’ small enclosure which adjoins the sanctuary. After holy communion a group of small children did a dance on the sanctuary to our delight, expressing trust in God. Finally after Mass the Bishop blessed a large cake the Sisters had just finished icing in time for the event and which was to be shared among all the well-wishers who had come to the celebration. It was altogether an historic and memorable occasion.
After all the extra activities and excitement of September, we were glad to begin October with a few days in retreat, reflecting on Saint Francis and the gospel way of life he envisaged in his Rule and passed on to Clare. We pondered on the Gospel sayings and extracts from Francis’ Rule that St Clare included in her own Rule written almost four decades later, as well as those passages that were uniquely Clare’s.
On 18 October, which is Covenant Day for the Schoenstatt Movement with which we are associated as a community, we had a Covenant Renewal Service during our evening meal. In it we renewed our threefold covenant - with Lady Poverty as Poor Clares, with Our Lady through our relationship with the Schoenstatt Movement, and with each other as a pilgrim people called together by God from diverse countries, backgrounds and walks of life, to journey together in love and peace towards the kingdom of heaven. Dear Mother gave each of us a small wooden shrine she had obtained from Schoenstatt and which had been blessed at the shrine at Manchester, as a token of our hoped-for new beginnings with our Sisters at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Nottingham under the auspices of Our Lady.
At the time of writing (November 2017) we are awaiting the final ratification by the Congregation of Religious of the proposed merger. Meanwhile we have been enjoying going down memory lane, reminiscing about the past nine decades as a community with slide presentations and commentaries from the annals of the early days and the Tidings of the past thirty-five years. Our moving will not be a straightforward venture, but will involve a thousand and one practical details after our own 90 years as a community in Wales, with much sorting out, deciding what to take etc as we head 100 miles due east-southeast to England and ‘Robin Hood’ country. It will all entail a lot of energy and patience, but now we believe God has shown us the way forward as a community, we go with trust in His loving care, and with deep thankfulness for our wonderful years in Wales, and all the good people who have been so much part of our life here and whom we will continue always to carry in our hearts.
So many were able to come to our Autumn Fair the other day, and it was as always a joy to see them and experience their support in so many ways. Our special appreciation goes to our dear Marianne, who heroically kept on her feet for the whole time serving all comers to the cake stall. Our craft work was very much appreciated, but the jumble department was less frequented than usual, which left us with a number of good items still requiring a home. Unfortunately our former outlet for such leftover and saleable goods has come to an end, so if you have further items you wish to donate to a good cause, perhaps you could consider giving them to a local charity shop instead. As it is, we are likely to have a considerable number of items of our own to dispose of in the next few months by the time we have sorted through the contents of every cupboard and several garrets in preparation for our move!
So, as we come to the end both of our 2017 Tidings and of an era as a community at Tŷ Mam Duw, we would like to thank each and every one of you for your love and concern for us over the years, in things great and little, often known only to God. We are deeply grateful for your own prayers for us, and for enabling us to share your joys and sorrows and those of your families and hold them in our hearts before the Lord. However we can as yet give no specific timeline or date as there are so many factors still uncertain - especially that of the completion of necessary building alterations beforehand. Meanwhile we hope that you will keep us in your own prayers and stay in touch with us while we are here, and please God, our future home. We certainly envisage continuing a yearly newsletter under a different heading, and the 2018 edition is likely to be a lively one! If you would like to continue to be on our new mailing list, could you contact us by e-mail, land post or phone, whichever is most convenient for you to let us know And so we go forward trusting in God, invoking His blessings on you, one and all, and taking to heart the words of Pope Francis:
Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope – the great hope which faith gives us – knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and he surprises us.
Are we open to “God’s surprises”? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?
God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us. But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God!
With loving prayers, now and in the coming year,
From your little sisters at Tŷ Mam Duw.
Poor Clare Colettine Community
Upper Aston Hall Lane,
Hawarden CH5 3EN
North Wales G.B.
Tel [++44] 1244 531029