In 1997 I attended a conference in Rome called “New Vocations for a New Europe”. It was one of five planned continental conferences to reflect on the promotion of vocations.
“In Verbo Tuo” was the document that came from the conference and it gave great inspiration and encouragement to the men and women serving in vocation ministry at the time. I was asked by Cardinal Basil Hume to spend some time looking at the implications of this document for the Church in England and Wales, and spent several months visiting dioceses, communities of consecrated life, new communities and vocations projects.
At the time I realised that although I had been a Director of Vocations for the Diocese for about five years, I had never actually met any young woman who was seriously considering religious life. That’s when Camilla Oberding, who at the time was a nurse at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, asked to meet with me to discuss provision for young people discerning their vocations. It was clear not only had she a great desire for the religious life, but she was in touch with other young women who felt the same. I suggested that we hold a meeting on a Friday evening to enable women to come together and to help in the research on vocation that I was preparing for the Cardinal. To my amazement nearly 25 women attended the meeting, and the faith, enthusiasm and sheer joy of that night will always be a special moment in my life.
After explaining something about why we had invited them to come together, I invited them to reflect on three questions. What would they want to say to the religious of today? If they were starting a new religious community what would it look like? And finally what did they want to do with this group? This was to be the first meeting of the Vocations Discernment Group which has met each month in the Hinsley Room at Westminster Cathedral, and still meets today. Over the years hundreds of women and now men, have attended the group, and many have gone forward to enter religious life. A small group of six decided to live together and formed the Cornerstone community. For over two years they lived in the presbytery in Underwood Road, continuing to go to work and discerning their vocation. At the end of this time two entered the Poor Clare’s, one chose single consecrated life and three began the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham.
“In Verbo Tuo” called for a culture of vocation to be built in the Church in Europe and to help all people realise that they have a vocation, that they are called by God to do his will. I have always said that I do not have a vocation to be a priest but have the same vocation as anyone else, that is to seek and do God’s will in my life. That is why I became a priest that is why I am still a priest. The women who came to the first meeting, were seeking God’s will, and I know that many young people have gained so much by the work and ministry of those who have helped the Vocations Group grow. The journey to marriage, into existing religious communities and the new community of Our Lady of Walsingham have been a generous response to God’s will in their lives.