Hours after returning from World Youth Day us first-year novices journeyed north alongside our second-year companions for our annual internovitiate meeting. The internovitiate meeting is a joint gathering of the Birmingham, Lyon and Nuremberg novitiates. This is, therefore, a gathering of the novices of many Western European Jesuit provinces: Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Flanders, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Sweden and Lithuania. Unfortunately our 30-strong group couldn’t all fit into Manresa House, Birmingham and so we hosted this meeting at the historic Stonyhurst College, surrounded by idyllic Lancashire countryside.
The week is a way of getting to know our counterparts in other novitiates and, in its sociable and active nature, the meeting really managed to do this. For the first few days we hosted a series of guest speakers: Fr John Dardis SJ (President of the Conference of European Provincials), Jane Hellings (British Province Director of Development and Communications) and Chris Hewer (expert in Christian-Muslim relations and interreligious dialogue). After hearing their wise words we broke into sharing groups and discussed the many issues that were illuminated. In the afternoons we took part in sporting and social activities together such as visits to the local pub, a quiz and a film night.
Perhaps the highlights for many of the participants were the two opportunities for common apostolic activities that we organised. Firstly we collaborated to run a ‘Night Fever’ evening in St Wilfrid’s Jesuit parish church in Preston, with the multi-national novices splitting into groups so as to invite members of the public into the church on a Friday night to light a candle whilst others provided prayerful music. Seeing the local people visibly moved by our activity gave it a deeper level of meaning than simply being with each other. The bonds formed before, during and after this activity were stronger as a result and left us with powerful shared memories of our time together.
The second meaningful apostolic activity came when we took part in an ‘Urban Pilgrimage’ through the streets of Manchester. This involved us being given a checklist of tasks to perform, including sharing our lunches with someone in need, visiting a variety of places of worship and discussing faith with local people in the streets. Like our pilgrimage experiments earlier in the year this was designed to place us out of our comfort zones and engage with people and places we were not used to. In this it was an enriching experience, again especially in that it was yet another opportunity to forge bonds with our Lyon and Nuremberg counterparts.
Overall it was a successful week that, on a personal level, brought me great joy in meeting others like me from across Europe – guys passionate about their faith and having a positive impact on the communities and world around them. I greatly look forward to our next internovitiate meeting, especially as it will enable me to visit a place (Nuremberg) that I have never been to and to experience the interesting German culture.
The next two weeks see us all take a much-needed two-week break following our manifold experiences of 2016. However, before we depart we welcome our new novices who have decided to pursue their vocations to the Society of Jesus. We are blessed to be welcoming another large group of six new novices – hopefully their reactions to novitiate life will soon be appearing on this very blog…
Click here for the Jesuits in Britain vocations website.