Monday, 13 October 2014

Richard Collins, the Prayer Warrior, REQUIESCAT IN PACE




A few minutes before writing this post, when the blue-darkness of night crept into my flat, I thought, I must include Richard’s intentions in my Rosary tonight and pray that the cancer disappears… Then the heavy realisation fell on my brain, Richard passed away two days ago. He left this life at a quarter to nine on Saturday morning, October 11th 2014. 


Fortunately, my best friend and I took a trip to Wales a month ago, in September, to visit Richard and spend some time with him. I will remember him in his conservatory, bright light pouring in, and his beautiful family surrounding him. 

Let me underscore that Richard was an exceptional friend.  I always felt secure in asking Richard for prayers because he would generously devote time and energy to prayer, but didn’t expect something in return. In life - I’ve learned the hard way that there are few pure souls who give of themselves and their time – without expecting something in return. 

I believe it is thanks to Richard’s prayers that I met Dan Radcliffe, and that a few months ago I got the in-depth interview with Nigel Farage on Northern Ireland. To be fair, it is usually senior political correspondents that get those interviews, especially on subjects as delicate as the future for Northern Ireland in the event of the UK leaving the EU. But with Richard’s prayers, the interview came to pass.

Richard’s prayers were a pure and selfless gift.   I think this is why Richard’s prayers were *answered*.  God saw that Richard’s heart was clean and acted accordingly, as in Psalm 24 Pray with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4)
If I e-mailed him, asking for prayers for a particular intention, Richard would send back a reply that he had taken out the Rosary and was going to ‘storm Heaven’.  

I have no clue as to how many dozens upon dozens of Rosaries that Richard offered for my intentions. It is very fitting that Richard should die during October, the month devoted to the Holy Rosary.   

I have always described Richard as ‘a prayer warrior’.  Even if I didn’t have good news, Richard would never be daunted, but would encourage me and promise even more prayers!  Writing this next sentence is hard – grief bites and paralyses my fingers – but I have to train my brain not to e-mail Richard asking for prayers. 

Perhaps Richard would most like to be remembered as an exceptional Catholic.  At times, when he was in agony and his cancer was extremely painful, he could STILL be found giving encouragement to other Catholic bloggers or offering up his suffering for the intentions of another.  No matter how sick he was, he never failed to give a pat on the back to someone who needed support, or to take the side of someone who was being picked on. 

The statue of St Peregrine at San Juan Capistrano, Southern California
Richard reaped many prayers in return.  In February 2013, when I was in Southern California, I was at the statue of St Peregrine, ‘the cancer saint’. At the time, I did not know that Richard was showing signs of illness.  Whilst at the statue, I had the strangest urge to put my hand to the ragged gash on St Peregrine’s leg, and to give Richard’s intentions to St Peregrine.  Later, after returning home to London, I found out that Richard had a cyst that had mysteriously cleared-up, and without medical explanation.

Richard prayed for me to get interviews with members of the Vatican Hierarchy.  And in the months just passed, one of the very same princes of the Church (the future Pope??!) offered Masses for Richard at my request.  

When I organised the novena to Padre Pio for Richard’s intentions, a minimum of 1,807 people offered the novena, and this does not include the many people who said the Novena because it was shared so widely on Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter.

It’s tempting to write that, ‘I have a friend in high places’, essentially bragging that I have a friend in Heaven. But I must restrain myself – because it would be the last thing that Richard would want. He would hate for us to presume his sanctity.  Instead, we can join his family in offering prayers for the repose of his soul. 

Good friends of mine have prayed at High Masses yesterday for the repose of Richard’s soul, I invite all my readers to do the same and to pray for his family in their time of grief. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

MEP Margot Parker: ''I want to tell all my fellow Catholics that a vote for UKIP is a vote for you!'



When I interviewed the Ukip leader Nigel Farage he admitted he had made the mistake in the past of not putting enough effort into selecting the right people for “key positions”. In recent years, though, he has paid more attention to personnel issues. It has worked: in the European elections in May Ukip got 28 per cent of the vote and topped a nationwide poll.

A significant number of senior Ukip members are Catholic. Deputy leader Paul Nuttall is a Catholic from Bootle. MEP Steven Woolfe is a Catholic and his fellow MEP Jim Carver is currently undertaking instruction in the Catholic faith. And don’t forget Margot Parker, prospective parliamentary candidate for Corby and East Northamptonshire, who was elected as an MEP in May.

The first minute that I meet her at the Ukip headquarters, behind Claridges in Mayfair, it is clear she’s on fire with the Ukip mission and has a tribal Catholic allegiance. “I’m a very proud Catholic,” she tells me, “and I want to say to all my fellow Catholics that a vote for Ukip is a vote for you!” 

Parker is in her early 70s but has the vitality of a woman half her age. She is glossy and stylishly dressed, with green eyes that are underscored by a perfectly matching shade of teal-green eyeliner.

Parker is a cradle Catholic from Grantham, the Lincolnshire town famous as the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher. Her father and mother were both Scottish. When they had a brood of six kids, they came down from Scotland to look for work. 

Having first laboured in a factory, her father went on to start his own business and own his own garage. Margot was their seventh child, born 17 years after their sixth. She got quite a lot of ribbing from her older siblings because she was the only child born in England.

Parker describes her father as an extremely devout Catholic. “My mother was a Scots Presbyterian, so they were a volatile mix,” she says. “But my mother agreed to bring us up as Catholics, and she kept her word. My mother never came to Sunday Mass with us, but she would make sure that we were well scrubbed and in our best duds. She would chase us out of the house on Sunday.”

Her father would give Margot talks on why Sunday Mass was so important. As a girl, she would pray the rosary privately and put up with quite a lot of hostility towards Catholics from a Scottish headmistress at her grammar school in Grantham. At 19, she became a teenage bride when she married a staunch Anglican farmer eight years her senior.

Having heard about her Catholic background, it comes as a shock when Parker says plainly: “Now, I’m a lapsed Catholic.” What turn of events caused the rosary-reciting Catholic to lapse? 

She explains that she and her husband  were unable to agree on the religious upbringing of their two boys, and ultimately separated. “I obtained an annulment that took seven years,” she says. “But before it came through I couldn’t receive Holy Communion. I spoke to a lot of priests and academics, and some said: ‘If you have a clear heart, you can receive Holy Communion.’ Others said: ‘You can’t receive Holy Communion.’ In the absence of being sure, I didn’t receive Holy Communion.” 

How did this cause her to lapse? “I became a lapsed Catholic because of the uncertainty of whether I could receive Holy Communion or not,” she says. Nowadays, Parker goes to Mass at Christmas and Easter, and is adamant that she subscribes to the faith. “I’m still a Catholic,” she says. “I hold dear to the Catholic values that my father instilled in me growing up.” Parker describes her father as “a strong Tory”, but she did not follow in his political footsteps.

Although she joined Ukip in 2009, she had not always been against the European Union. “To start, I had been very open to the EU,” she concedes. But it was her stint working in Brussels as a lobbyist for small business that transformed her into a Eurosceptic. She says that the EU “strangles” small businesses with 
red tape. 

A member of Ukip for five years, Parker has wholeheartedly embraced her role as a politician. Her greatest passion is the creation of jobs for young people. She says: “The saddest thing is when young people come to me and say they can’t get jobs.” 

Parker thinks that high levels of immigration and youth unemployment are intrinsically linked. Immigration is a complex issue and it’s the subject of ferocious debate. Some argue that it is only low-skilled natives who are adversely affected by immigration because of greater competition for menial jobs. But Parker argues that it is these low-skilled workers, the ones who struggle to find a job as a cleaner or work in a factory, that are not being listened to and are being maligned as “racist” by the established political parties. 

Much of the analysis from the European elections showed that former Labour voters are defecting in significant numbers to Ukip. Parker paints a worrying picture for Labour. She says that when she goes door to door in a Labour stronghold the first question is usually: “What will you do about immigration?” After explaining about Ukip’s plans to curb immigration, the former Labour voter, she says, is won over, takes a bunch of Ukip leaflets and gives them out to their neighbours. 

I can see why Parker is rallying such large crowds of working-class people and why they warm to her. She is genuinely passionate about their job worries and money issues. There is a gleam in Parker’s eye when she talks about poaching disaffected Labour voters for “the People’s Army”. “I much prefer canvassing in Labour heartlands, to Tory ones,” she says with a big smile. 

Is she seeing more Catholic voters opting for Ukip? “We have a lot of Catholic grandparents joining us,” she says. “The main reason they come to us is because they want jobs for their grandchildren.” She suggests that Ukip has made great gains in the Labour stronghold of Heywood. This, of course, is the former stomping ground of the hugely admired and sorely missed pro-life Labour MP Jim Dobbin. After his sudden death, there is a 
by-election underway to elect his successor.  

Parker claim she has faced aggression from Labour campaigners. She reports that her car has been damaged, she has been run off the road and that people have screamed insults at her. 
But she says she doesn’t hold a grudge against them, and tries to engage then. “I always say to them: ‘Come back here and have a proper discussion. Let’s talk about why the young people in my constituency can’t find jobs.’” Instead, she says, they just shout “racist!” at her.

“It’s such a lazy, cowardly tactic to call people racist when they want their say on immigration,” she sighs. If immigration is maintained at the same level as the last 10 years, 10 million more people will be added to the population in the next 20 years. The voters realise it is irrefutably the case that until Britain changes its relationship with the EU no government can reduce immigration levels. 

This raises the question of whether David Cameron will honour his commitment to hold a referendum in 2017. Parker chuckles and says: “That’s a laugh. Cameron is a consummate politician, and very charming. He has completely signed up to the EU 
project.”

What about re-negotiating the terms of Britain’s membership with the EU? “No, he won’t be able to do anything meaningful. Cameron will never close open borders. The EU is about the freedom of movement.”

Ukip may be attracting Catholic voters, but are the Catholic bishops of England and Wales not alarmed by Ukip’s policies on immigration? “Well, the Catholic churches have grown because they are full of Catholic immigrants,” Parker says. “I don’t have a problem with this. It’s terrific for the Church. I have a problem with people arriving and having immediate access to all the services, and all the benefits that hard-working Brits pay their taxes to provide.”

Why does Parker think she is not winning the bishops’ support? “I think they are misinformed,” she replies. “I expect better from Catholic bishops. They need to understand that Ukip and the Catholic Church have so much in common. I cannot think of anyone who is a bishop or a priest who would not have the same values for people as we do. The bishops need to be less grand, and meet us and hear us out and see that we want opportunities for our wonderful young people.”

This interview appears in today's edition of The Catholic Herald. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

Thanks to St Raphael, I got an Honours Degree



Giving thanks to St Raphael in California
Some years ago, as a twenty-year-old I was skeptical of praying to the angel St Raphael. I thought he was ‘a made-up saint’, and thought that someone of New Age persuasion had invented him as an imaginary friend. I believed in Guardian Angels, but surely Archangels were stretching the point?! How wrong one can be.

Then another young girl told me that they had received great favours from the Archangel Raphael; that they were owed a large cheque, and that on praying to St Raphael, the money had been paid swiftly. As a student, a saint who could act as a debt collector seemed very attractive! 

I was a university student and a teacher-in-training at the time. It was a heady time of waiting to be assigned the professor that would spend five weeks evaluating my lesson plans and my performance in the classroom and give me that final exam grade that would be with me forever. 

I decided to say this novena to St Raphael and my intention was simple, ‘let me get a fair professor that will give me a decent grade’. 

Sharing a house with other university students at the time, I had just completed the novena, when one of the housemates came home and looked at me with sad eyes. She told me that she had ‘really bad news’. She had been in the doorway of ‘the education office’ (the busy place where the admin staff did the paperwork for student teachers) and had overhead them reading out my name and saying, ‘Mary O’Regan is on Professor X’s list’.  Taking a step into the office, my housemate saw a sheet of official looking paper and saw that my name was down as being the student of Professor X.

Professor X (not his real name, obviously) was quite the bully who failed a lot of students and gave the most diligent students C or D grades for the most whimsical of reasons. A friend of mine who had been assigned him said, ‘always a Pass, never an Honour with Professor X’.    
 
On hearing that I’d been assigned Professor X, my face fell. Getting Professor X meant that I wouldn’t get an Honours degree. But it popped up in my mind that I’d invested nine days of prayer in beseeching St Raphael for a professor who would judge me justly. 

With renewed enthusiasm, I said to the housemate who had encumbered me with the bad news of Professor X, “I’ve said a novena to St Raphael, he won’t let me get Professor X.”

My housemate was a nice girl and nodded her head sympathetically, before looking at me like I was in denial, and said, ‘Mary, I think you have to face facts, you’ve probably got the worst professor ever.’ 

“We’ll see, something will change. I won’t get Professor X.”

Sure enough, when the official lists went up on the wall, I had a pleasant surprise, and had been given Professor O’Connor, a respectable professor who was sweet-natured and eager to give students good grades. He was the type whose students got all grades, from being failed to being given A grades.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said my housemate."I'm speechless."

Then during my first meeting with Professor O’C, he said, “are you sure you are meant to be on my list? Is there any chance you are on two professors’ lists at the same time?”

I shook my head vigorously and turning on the charm, I said, “I’m delighted to have you as my professor. I’ll do my best.”

“I have no idea how you ended up on my list. It’s a complete mystery. The education office said to me that they had made a mistake and you were meant to have another professor.”

Later on Professor O’C noted, “I could have opted not to accept you as my student. You had been on another professor’s list. But I felt compelled to keep you on my list.”
The fact that I did not get Professor X made all the difference in the end. I got a very good grade from Professor O’C and even today as I update my resume / CV, I am delighted to be able to put down Honours Degree.  Had it not been for St Raphael's intercession, it may never have been a reality.
 
Some prayers that are answered have a positive benefit that lasts a lifetime. This is one such example.

In the ‘new’ calendar, we hold September 29 as the feast day for all the Archangels. We know that St Raphael is an Archangel because he said, “I am one of the seven who stand before the face of God.”

Thank you, St Raphael, for making sure that I got a ‘decent’ professor.

In the next picture, you see St Michael, and alongside him is St Raphael, signified by the large fish in his grasp.  This wonderful illustration is the oeuvre of Matthew Alderman, a friend of eight years.  Go ahead, and check out his visually stunning website.