As the Scots College community prepares for the new academic year, there is a chance to reflect on the experiences of the summer. Today, Christoper Doig from the Diocese of Aberdeen recounts his busy placement in St. Mary’s Cathedral.
This summer I had the pleasure of being sent to the St Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen for my pastoral placement, and it was the broadest experience of parish life I have ever had in such a short space of time. During the placement, I had the opportunity make some visits to the hospital, attend the Polish charismatic prayer group, the Spanish Alpha course and the bible study group, give a recollection to the African choir and sing with them at African Mass, serve two weddings, and visit the Indian crew on the ship that has been stranded in Aberdeen for over a year.
This intense experience of parish life brought to mind the words of St Paul when he said ‘to be all things to all men’. God has certainly given me the chance to try and live up to this!
The highlight of my placement though was probably the pilgrimage with the youth as most of my pastoral work up to this point has been with scouts or at summer camps. On my arrival I was plunged into the last days of preparations before we set out for what was a long, rather exhausting, difficult, adventurous, powerful and grace-filled trip, led by the St Andrew’s Community for eighty young people – from Scotland, Ireland and Poland – to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima.
The aim of the pilgrimage was to inspire the youth to live out the message Our Lady gave to the children: to pray, to do penance and to offer up our suffering for the salvation of souls. It showed us all how to live our life. It was a journey with many hardships but had great rewards for the perseverance: we had long journeys in the bus, change of plans, people falling ill, nights of very little sleep and painful mornings as a result of it. Coffee was probably the biggest consolation I received, making me somewhat functional for a major part of the day.
What really struck me was the piety and devotion of the youth, and their desire to really live out the faith in an authentic way; and what helped this was the fact that the spiritual leaders of the group – the priests, the deacon, the seminarians, and the St Andrew’s Community – were all very young. To be exposed to this at such a young age will be a great aid to the youth when choosing their vocation, I believe. There were real moments of grace on the pilgrimage, mostly in the ordinary things of the day like conversations on the tiresome bus journeys; at least once I day I was asked about why I want to become a priest, or to explain some truths of the faith. I was so impressed with their interest in the faith and how the trip was affecting them as the days progressed.
Every day we prayed the Divine Office and celebrated Holy Mass, then we prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet; and later in the day we had a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament with songs of praise and worship. The most beautiful moments were the evening Rosary prayed at the chapel of the apparition, which was followed by a procession with the statue of Our Lady accompanied by the Fatima hymn which goes to the tune of ‘Immaculate Mary’. All of us held candles for the Rosary and it was already dark, so the atmosphere was incredible – a great spirit of peace spread itself over the shrine.
We all received many graces there to prepare us for the long journey home. From Fatima we drove up to Santiago Compostela, from where we departed to go back to the UK. On the way we stopped at a place called Balasar, the hometown of Blessed Alexandrina. She was a very holy woman who lived out the message of Our Lady given at Fatima and dedicated her whole life to it.
On our return to the UK, we stayed some days at the Marian shrine in Walsingham to strengthen in us what we had received in Fatima.
And from there we drove to Alton Castle where we took part in a youth retreat, and it also consisted of a trip to Alton Towers!
It took me some days to recover after this holy trip and I am still processing all the graces received. I am so grateful to have been in Fatima for the anniversary and it has brought me closer to the Immaculate heart of Mary, leading me to a deeper love for Jesus and His Church. May God be praised.