Friday, 17 November 2017

Two Degrees of Separation from Sanctity

The Spanish 20th Century Martyrs of the Vincentian Family

My nephew's fiance is staying in our home for a couple of months as they prepare for their marriage next year. Last weekend she headed back to Spain, not for work nor for a wedding but for the Beatification of her Great-great Uncle. The saints can sometimes seem impossibly far away, haloed ancients in another dimension yet It was amazing to suddenly be brought into such close contact with a bona fide martyr of the Catholic Church. 

I asked my nephews Marco and Victoria to write about what it's like to see a family member raised to the glory of the altar!

Blessed Enrique Pedro Gonzalbez Andreu
A few months ago we received an invitation to attend the beatification of Enrique Pedro Gonzalbez Andreu in Madrid, together with 59 other Spanish martyrs of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. This was particularly significant as Enrique is Victoria´s great-great-uncle and I had never witnessed a beatification ceremony in person. It was with excitement that we boarded our plane on a cold night in London, heading to Madrid, where we would meet Victoria´s extended family, who travelled from Cartagena, in the southeast of Spain. Over 30 of us made the trip to bear witness to the Church´s recognition of these martyrs´ lives and deaths. The Mass and beatification would take place on Saturday 11th November at the Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid. 

Enrique Pedro (“Pedrin”) Gonzalbez Andreu was born in Cartagena in 1910, and at the young age of 19 joined the Sons of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal a group belonging to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. A devout Catholic, he was becoming known for his writing and 23 of his articles had already been published in local newspapers. At the height of the Republican persecution of the Church in Spain in 1935 he wrote an article entitled “Denial” in which he encouraged his readers to confess their faith in Christ and God during difficult times, with a great love for the Catholic Church and his country. During the turbulent beginning of Spain’s Civil War, he was detained with two friends, Allepuz and Ardil, who would become his companions in martyrdom: the three of them would find encouragement in each other to give up their lives for God. Two days before his death Enrique wrote to his family: “To those at home, I know you have heard of the sentence against me. I am calm and pray you don’t give in to despair, trust in God, as I do. A hug to all of you, Pedrin”. At the age of 26, he was shot on the morning of 22nd September 1936, wearing his Miraculous Medal. Victoria´s family still has this medal as a precious relic, together with his last letter. Before dying, the three friends explicitly forgave their executioners. Enrique´s only fault was being a Catholic.

Before the Mass started, we were shown videos detailing some of the martyrs´lives, and Victoria even got interviewed by the local TV station! After the opening hymn, the beatification rite was beautifully conducted by Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the body of the Church that investigates cases that lead to the canonization of saints. Many parts of the Church joined the Cardinal in this celebration: families, priests, nuns, bishops and archbishops. in particular, Marco was pleased to see Rouco Varela, Archbishop Emeritus of Madrid and open defender of the Church in Spain’s “culture war” with former President Zapatero in the early 2000s. At the end of Mass, the choir was joined by the assembly in singing the “Salve to Our Lady of Charity”, a popular hymn from Cartagena, composed by one of the martyrs being beatified that day.

This was a wonderful experience for us, as not everyone can say they have a Blessed in their family, who can intercede for them. We witnessed how 60 ordinary people lived extraordinary lives, by truly living their faith in the face of adversity. The humility and courage with which they lived the last days of their lives is something which we all aspire to. For Victoria and her family, this day firmly united her family within the Church; for Marco, this experience brought him closer to his fiancé and her family.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Pull up a Pew #4 - Saints and Superheroes


It seems that every couple of weeks a new superhero film hits the cinemas, London Buses are permanently plastered with advertisements of muscle-bound heroes and heroines, caped and masked, ready to save the world… again. For us Catholics the idea that there are beings in or from another place, dimension or time, ready and waiting to help us is not so strange – after all, the saints we know, love and pray too also have uniforms, special powers and easily recognizable symbols . I’ve often used the superhero analogy when explaining the communion of saints to confirmation candidates so I was super-excited when I came across Maria Johnson’s latest book: Supergirls and Halos a fun and thought-provoking exploration of the world of lady saints and super-heroines. I recently had a chance to interview the author about her book and her own journey towards super-sanctity!

Tell us about yourself? How do you juggle family life, faith and writing?

Now that I am retired and fully enjoying the benefits of the empty nest, I thought I’d be writing more – but that hasn’t exactly been the case. When the children were little, and even up into their high school and college years, I would set aside special time to write. But now, I find that having all that “extra” time gets filled with volunteering or enjoying spontaneous outings with my husband. I’ve gone back to a writing schedule in the very early morning. I dedicate that first hour or two of the day to prayer and writing, and that way, anything I do later in the day is a bonus!


What inspired you to write this book?

The idea that the heroes in popular culture have some value for talking about virtue has been on my mind for decades. It’s only been in the last decade or so, with a reawakened faith, that I can see the value of this exercise through a faith lens. When I saw that there was a Wonder Woman movie being made, it hit me like a bolt of lightning! This is a book for our time. So many of us are seeking something…the good…which you and I understand is God. But so many people are seeking and not finding the Truth. I wanted to write a bridge for them. To speak to them where they are in the culture, and point them toward the saints, toward the Blessed Mother, who will lead us to Jesus. I start with Wonder Woman and write about Our Lady of Guadalupe in the last chapter.

Who was your favourite saint and superhero as you were growing up?

My favorite hero was definitely Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, but I can’t remember having a favorite saint. The Blessed Mother was always a presence in our home, especially under the title of Our Lady of Charity, so maybe my favorite was Mary! But really, I probably had an unfavorite saint in St. Teresa of Avila. That’s a long story, but it involved having to attend a lot of my mother’s school reunion lunches. She went to a Carmelite school and so I took it out on St. Teresa when I’d have to give up my Saturday afternoon to visit with my mom’s childhood friends. St. Teresa and I have made up and become friends since those days.


Wonder woman was the first female superhero to star in her own film. What do you think female superheroes bring to the table which is distinctive and helpful to us mere mortal ladies?

The superheroines on the big screen give us a chance to have adventures vicariously. It would be cool to fly, or control nature, or have the strength to throw a railcar across a shipyard. It’s not very useful to me on a daily basis, but it’s cool. But you know, being able to throw a train, and having the temperance or prudence not to do it…that’s meaningful. We see heroines on the big screen control their powers, or use them for good, and we can be encouraged to do the same. I don’t have much use for picking up cars, but really, I have a weapon in how I use words. Modeling that temperance, that self-control, in how I use my words is also a heroic act. I can destroy or build up. The Superheroines teach that. Wonder Woman, especially, because she’s in the culture right now, is an even greater example of how as women, we can lead with love. I’m sure we’ll see it next month in the release of The Last Jedi, where we’ll not only see Rey tackle a hero’s journey, but we’ll see a glimpse of General Organa (Princess Leia) lead with spiritual motherhood. It’s a wonderful time for girls and women to see these heroines on the screen.

Every superhero has her nemesis or weakness, what do you think stops women from becoming saints?

In the book I describe these hindrances to our holiness as capes. Remember in The Incredibles, Edna Mode refused to add a cape to Mr. Incredible’s suit? She said capes got in the way of his work. We put on capes in our lives that hold us back from holiness. Sin, of course, is what I’m talking about. While we might not be able to avoid sin, we do have powerful tools in our faith utility belts. We have frequent reception of the sacraments, reconciliation and communion! We have prayer and devotions! We have the rosary!

How do you avoid the risk of trivializing the importance of the saints by comparing them with imaginary caped crusaders of various shapes and sizes?

That’s such a great question because, of course, my intent is to inspire! I start each section by talking about the heroine and identifying her human virtues and strengths. These characters exhibit a kind of heroism that is over the top, in your face. They are characters that popular culture hold up as role models. I acknowledge that they have traits that are admirable and worthy of emulating, but then I introduce the saint and discuss the same kind of virtue in the context of the cardinal virtues. I point out  the very human experience of the saint. Heroic virtue, as exhibited in the lives of saints, is presented not only as the ideal, but attainable. We are all made to be saints and are all capable of heroic virtue in our lives.

What are your hopes and dreams for this book?

I hope this book inspires women of all ages to release the capes getting in the way of leading lives of holiness. Too often we think Sainthood is unattainable, that somehow the Saints have some extra ingredient that makes them Super-Holy. That extra ingredient is Grace, and it is freely given to us, not earned. We all have the makings of sainthood. I hope this book shows the way to real heroic virtue. And I hope it entertains, inspires, and brings out the saint in each of us.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Let's All Dance for Life

It was September 2015 when my super active pro-life eldest son, Ettore shared a link to our Facebook about a very appealing event.

I had always heard stories told by my parents in law of the beautiful dinner dances organised by the Italian community in London once upon a time... wonderful dresses, incredible food and amazing music, and the even more extravagant stories told by one of my sisters in law who constantly attends posh dinners, banquets and balls.

I loved listening to the tales of these wonderful parties but felt maybe they weren't for us. I still dreamt of one day attending a ball, where long dresses would float around the room, and gentlemen would look dashing in their tuxedoes and where live music would fill the air.

I didn't have to wait long for my dream to come true... that link my eldest son had sent me directed me to an event organised by the Good Counsel Network ... not just a dance for the sake of it but .... A PRO LIFE CHARITY BALL!!!

Full of enthusiasm I phoned Pierpaolo who obviously had to tell me to calm down,  I then phoned my sister telling her she had no choice but to come, did the same with my sister in law who attends the many wonderful parties... got a few other members of the family excited and within minutes filled a table... God had granted me my wish...

Yes it was a lot of money for us but the fact that it was for the greatest cause imaginable... that of helping this great organisation to offer a choice to the poor mothers who assumed abortion was their only choice, was worth every penny... even if that meant eating pasta or beans on toast for the next two months.

The day of the ball arrived and the dress was slightly too tight... and it was not because I had eaten too much in the previous days.. we were going to attend that very same pro life ball with a secret we wanted to keep for ourselves... a new life would be our chaperon and not just for the ball but, God willing for the next nine months and more... Yes! that long awaited baby number 6 was finally on the way.

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The journey (may not have been by limousine, we went in Big Blue ...our very old 9 seater Caravelle)  was great fun, we all felt like a million dollars inside and we were determined we were going to dance the night away and enjoy ourselves as we always do when we are together.

The venue was very elegant, the food delicate, the wine abundant, the waiters polite and the company superb. The time for the speeches arrived and one of the many mothers who had  received the GCN support, spoke with strength and firmness. She brought tears to my eyes as she stood there with her gorgeous little daughter.

As the band played the first dance the music took us and real fun began...

I will remember that night dearly!

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On our way out I thanked the organizers for the wonderful evening and promised I would bring more people the following year.

The count down to the Good Counsel Network Pro-Life Ball 2016 began as we stepped out from the hotel...

 The money was even shorter for the 2016 ball... Maria Bernardette was born on 18th July 2016 and I was on unpaid maternity leave. That wasn't going to stop us either. It was for a good cause and we trusted in God's providence anyway. I found my dress on Ebay for about £20, borrowed my sister in law's bag and wore my mother's posh cape once again. A few more people joined our table...

Maria had a great time too and another successful night was spent among family, old and new friends... Maria fell asleep just in time for the dance and we went home once again full of joy and looking forward to another year.

A year has already passed, the dress is ready (in fact it has been ready since June....) and the Pro-Life ball 2017 almost here.

This year unlike the previous years we won't be going in 10 or 12 but rather in 30!!! Thanks to the generosity and openness of  the many beautiful women and men who have happily accepted a simple invitation to a ball, a ball that, as it did for Cinderella, will change the life of not just a woman but of a future Mother and her child for whom we danced the night away!

If you'd like to join us it's still not too late!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Pull Up a Pew #3 Married to Mary's Meals


Our journey with 'Catholic Mothers' has given us the chance to meet some wonderful women who tirelessly work to live according to the teachings of the Gospel whether in the public eye or in the background.

Often behind the scenes we women have been given a very precious task to carry out, that of serving our family with all of ourselves... Not an easy task, at times, and one that today's world doesn't value or recognize.  

For this reason, we need to be reminded constantly of the importance of the role we have been entrusted and we need to encourage one another in this important God-given vocation.

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing Julie Macfarlane-Barrow, wife of Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow,  founder of  Mary's Meals, and a mother of  7.

Founded in 1992 Mary's Meal, named in honour of Our Lady, is a charity born to provide nutritious daily school meals  to children in some of the poorest parts of the world. 

Julie's love for the Lord, her devotion to her husband and love for her children play a very important role in the life of her family and she is an inspiration especially to the wives of busy husbands. In her interview  she opens a window onto a family whose work is to feed a million children every day.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What's your Catholic background?

I am blessed with catholic parents who have a great love for Our Lady.  We were that family who was at everything that was going on at church - May devotions, family prayer groups, First Fridays, First Saturdays, the lot. My parents took all four of us to Rome, Lourdes and Medjugorje, and made sure we could attend any and every church youth event we wanted to, including two of my siblings attending World Youth Days. We even used to do all night vigils during Lent!  It was an incredible experience.  As we became older things changed and we all began opting out of the things Mum and Dad were still faithful to.  I think without a life-changing trip to Medjugorje when I had just turned 16 years old I would have a very different life now.

How did you meet your husband? 

I had qualified as a Staff Nurse a year earlier when war broke out in the Former Yugoslavia.  It was 1992.  We were contacted by the MacFarlane-Barrow family, with whom we had previously stayed at their home, Craig Lodge Family House of Prayer.  They had begun a response to the terrible suffering in and around Bosnia and they asked if we could help in any way.  

Some time later, I was woken in the middle of the night by a voice calling my name.  It was a warm, deep voice.  I knew it was God!  In that instant I knew He was calling me to go to the former Yugoslavia.  It was a moment of absolute clarity.  I just didn't know how I would get there!  My first thought was how would I tell my parents, especially my wee Dad, who is the most gentle and loving of souls, and would be terrified at the thought of his daughter going into a war zone.  So I prayed.  The following morning we were at breakfast and my saintly Dad said to me "I think you should go to Bosnia."  I nearly fell off my chair!  I knew that God had placed in his heart the same call He placed in mine.  For me it was clear.  So now I had to find a way to get there. That's when I met Magnus. I literally phoned him and asked for a lift.  And the rest, as they say, is history!  I always say to folks, say Yes to God!  He always has something much greater in mind than you could ever imagine.  Look at what happened to me.  I thought I was going to help some people, thought I would change the world in my own way, but God had something for me beyond my wildest dreams.  He gave me Magnus.


'Behind every successful man there is a great woman'. What is your role in Mary's Meals?

 Well, I think behind all of us is The Greatest Woman ever - Our Lady!  I love to support my husband in his work, of course I do, as do our kids, but I know that it is Our Lady I have to thank for where we are today and no amount of support on my own could have ever helped Magnus reach as many children with Mary's Meals as he has.  How have I helped Mary's Meals?  Firstly, through prayer.  This work really is a fruit of prayer, and I have been blessed with a faith that has shown me the need for prayer and the fruits of those prayers.  I have also been blessed with a real sense of serving my husband.  I love being married!  It is my joy to serve my husband and help him carry out his mission.  I now play a small role in that mission, thanks be to God.  Our youngest is at school and this year I started working a few hours a week for Mary's Meals.  I love it!  I'm part of the admin team based here in Dalmally, in the famous Shed. It's a joy to be part of a team that feeds over 1.2 million children every school day.  It’s a far cry from 25 years ago when it was just me banging out thank you letters on an old, donated manual typewriter.

What is your advice to wives of busy husbands?

  Pray!  Pray, pray, pray!  That's the best advice I can give to anyone.  Trust your marriage as your call to holiness, not just a state in life.  This is our path to salvation.  We were made for this!  And thank God each and every day for your husband.  He was made for you, created for you to lead you closer to God.  He is God's greatest gift to you.  I have been blessed with a deep awareness of God's Love for me.  He made me Magnus!  He created him for me!  That's how chuffed I am to be his wife :)

Has Mary's Meals made you think differently about feeding your own children?

 Yes, absolutely.  We had just had our third child, Martha, when the first Mary's Meals were served.  I had often contemplated the suffering a mother must endure when she has nothing to feed her child.  Magnus had travelled widely over the 10 years before Mary's Meals was born and always spoke of the many hungry children he would encounter through his work.  The desire to feed these kids kept growing until Mary's Meals was born.  The first Mary's Meals were served to around 200 children, way back in 2002.  Now 1,230,171 children will have received Mary's Meals today!  We have calculated that we have served over one billion meals!  One billion!  It's amazing!  But we are more aware than ever of the millions of children still hungry, waiting for Mary's Meals to come to their school, to their country.  As a mother of 7, knowing how much it takes to feed my own gang, I pray every day that we can reach more children.  More than ever, I am painfully aware of children who will know hunger all their lives.  As a mother, how can I not feel for them?   Let us pray and work hard so that we can reach the next child.

Mary's Meals has alleviated physical hunger in the third world, what can we do to satisfy spiritual hunger that is so prevalent closer to home?

Mary's Meals brings both the physical nourishment of the daily meal, and it feeds the soul of the hungry child.  It shows them that they are loved, that people around the world care so much for them that they would do extraordinary things to help them eat and learn at school.  It shows them that there is indeed a Loving and Merciful God who hears their cry.  Mary's Meals feeds our souls too!  We, who have been given so much, have the opportunity to share what is not ours to keep, to help children at the other side of the world know that they are loved, to play a small part in God's plan for salvation.  I think the works of mercy are not just hugely important for us living out our call to holiness, they are often the way someone comes to know the Love of God!  Through each work of mercy - whether that be feeding the hungry child, helping the mother in a crisis pregnancy, visiting in prison, etc - we become more fully aware of our part in God's plan and our souls are fed.  Our desire to help grows, our love grows, and our inclination towards prayer grows.  We see this every day in Mary's Meals.  People can feel God's Love.  They are changed by it and desire more of it.  Prayer is at the heart of all good.  I was raised in a family who prayed the rosary, our own family prayer includes the rosary every day.  Pray, pray, pray.  It's the only way!

Has the success of Mary's Meals affected the family in any unusual ways?

Lots of ways!  There is a lot of love for Mary's Meals in the world.  It seems whereever we go, we will find someone who loves Mary's Meals.  Our kids are growing up knowing their Dad is very loved.  It's incredibly special.  I would also say that Mary's Meals makes us happy.  Very happy!  There are lots of funny stories over the years, special visitors to our house or unusual invitations to wonderful things.  Our eldest two sons, Calum and Ben, have both visited Malawi and spent time working with the Mary's Meals team out there.  We hope, please God, that we will be able to give this experience to each of our children.  There are some very funny stories of Magnus meeting famous people and staying in unusual places. His life is such a mixture of experiences! There was the call that came on a very hectic, family Sunday evening.  You know the sort, getting all the kids bathed and school bags ready, trying to find gym kit and finish homework.  Magnus answered the phone whilst losing a battle with our then toddler Gabriel, who was dripping wet and did not want to be wrapped in a towel.  The voice at the end of the phone said it was the Vatican calling and could Magnus and I come to Rome to meet the newly elected Pope Francis!  Magnus had to hand the still dripping toddler to one of his older siblings and ask the caller to repeat it because he couldn't quite believe his ears!  So yes, there have been many unusual experiences in our family!  One of the funniest though was when we got a call from Time Magazine a couple of years ago to say Magnus had been included in their list of the 100 Most Influential People In The World, 2015 I think, to which he responded, laughing, "I'm not even the most influential person in my own household!"   My son, Ben, has just reminded me of some of the strange and weird experiences Magnus and I had in the very early days of this work, when we were driving lorries full of donated aid to the people of Croatia and Bosnia – me passing the HGV driving test but Magnus failing, being run over by wild dogs as I slept under the stars beside a UN check point somewhere deep in the middle of Bosnia, blagging our way onto a Ukrainian UN helicopter piloted by a barely sober crew pretending the blue UN mail sacks draped over our arms were in fact the required flak jackets (which we didn’t have) for all passengers, whilst a decidedly unsober crew member got out of the helicopter in an attempt to kick the doors closed when the broken, hydraulic system failed to close them properly, and then not knowing if the dramatic side to side flying by our pilot was the intended anti missile style of flying or the result of too much slivovitz before breakfast …. Yes, perhaps I won’t talk much more about that!

What is your favourite family dish? 

 That's an easy one!  Sunday roast dinner when Magnus is home, Calum our eldest is back from university, with Ben and Toby waxing lyrical about their rugby and football games while Martha and Bethany laugh at their tales of sporting prowess, meanwhile little Anna sneaks one more roast potato onto her plate without any of us noticing, and Gabriel swings his growing legs that don't quite yet reach the floor as he leans into his dad and smiles a smile that speaks a thousand words.  Dad is home!  I love it!  


Monday, 9 October 2017

Presenting the First Catholic Mothers Conference


As I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament one afternoon, the words of John Paul II 'Do not be afraid, open wide the doors to Christ' resounded within me. 

As I left the little Chapel, in haste I phoned Pierpaolo to tell him how much I felt we had to respond to the wonderful love and firm teaching that we had received under our beloved John Paul II.

We had the grace to grow up with him by our side. His love for humanity was immense, the dignity we received as young people tangible, his devotion for Our Lady was great and his total submission to God was an inspiration.

With his encouragement to follow Christ we discovered the beauty and strength of femininity, the value and greatness of masculinity, we entered marriage understanding its importance and looked forward to become co creators with God to build His Church.

As I was on the phone I told Pierpaolo we could not stay still, we had to do something to pass on what we had received and not just to our children. What we had was not just ours but we needed to reach people in our little world and tell them that our life, our marriage, our fatherhood, motherhood with Christ was the way to happiness. 

Walking towards the school as the clock was ticking and my lunch break almost finished, I bombarded my poor husband with a list of talks and events we HAD to organise for us and for the community of faithful who thirst for the truth and are hungry for the Word of God.

The phone call ended as most of our phone calls do... 'Ok, ok we will talk about it later... you CRAZY woman'.

That conversation happened about a year ago today... 

In that year my prayer was always... "God I think this is what you want from me (us)... and if it is, please you lead the way!" 

The conference was the first of the many projects I felt inspired to put together... 

I started with some crowdfunding for the event with the help and support of some wonderful women, and started contacting some speakers I dreamed of hosting in England, I sent a letter to Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St Gianna Molla (not exactly a letter... but that's a story for another time), got in contact with Costanza Miriano and started enquiring about possible venues.

The crowdfunding didn't really go as expected though I witnessed the generosity of many incredible people... and none of the people I was trying to reach was really answering.

Perhaps I had misunderstood what God wanted and yes I was this CRAZY woman trying to do something way bigger than her abilities. I didn't really think about it too much and again said to God, "I am not going to stress about this... if this is what you want make it happen, I am here waiting".

Around the time of Pentecost I received Gianna Emanuela Molla's phone call expressing the desire to come to England and to speak about her mother. This and many other events confirmed God wanted me to go ahead.

Aylesford wrote back to us and was available to book for the Divine Mercy Weekend...


Costanza Miriano agreed to meet me for coffee and Pierpaolo to drive me to Rome to meet her, while on holiday. (One can never stop working for the Kingdom not even on holiday ;-) ).

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Today I am delighted to present to you the programme of the first ever 'Catholic Mothers Conference'!



To book a ticket or to sponsor a mother please follow this link

Places are limited and many tickets have already sold. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Pull Up a Pew #2. Michele, Emily and 'The Friendship Project'

Having a big family (or being a mother in general) means there is very little time for leisure... Finding the time to read, in my case, has become an arduous quest... The pile of books on my bedside cabinet is becoming an increasingly frustrating reminder of how much I'd like to do and how little time I actually have.

Though I lack time (I am sure this is a common problem) and my retirement reading list becomes bigger and bigger, God doesn't stop surprising me... I was given the possibility to read an advance copy of the 'The Friendship Project', the latest book by the authors of 'Divine Mercy for Moms',

'The Friendship Project', just like 'Divine Mercy for Moms' is a book that comes from the heart. Emily and Michele have truly experienced and embraced 'perfect friendship' and together have walked the extra mile to spread the Good News.

As Pope Saint John Paul II said 'In God's plan, nothing happens by chance', and both books landed at my feet at just the right time... the first when I was looking for Christ's Mercy the most and the latter to confirm the importance and the need of pure friendship in Christ.

Christ himself called us friends "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." and told us that giving our life for our friends is where true love lies!

The authors explore friendship through the life of some famous Saints who were friends with each other, proving that sanctity is contagious and that in this journey of faith we need each other, we need to support, encourage and love one another as He has loved us.

Easy to read, the book is pleasant and genuine. Written with a spirit of service Emily and Michele effortlessly manage to create a very intimate friendship with the reader herself, touching their heart and moving them toward the achievement of that friendship that only comes from Christ. 

Just like their previous book, this one asks you to act, it moves you and encourages you to put into practice what you read...  and offers you the great opportunity to fully enter friendship thanks to the study group format which is easy to follow and pleasant to deliver.

The experience of 'Divine Mercy for Mums' study group was a wonderful one and the gift of another study group ready to access is a real blessing. I look forward to starting it soon and walking towards Heaven alongside the wonderful people I have met on this journey of faith and the ones I will meet thanks to 'The Friendship Project'.

"Friendship is complete agreement about all things human and divine with benevolence and affection" (Cicero)


Time to meet Michele and Emily, the authors of the book ... Enjoy!

Can you briefly introduce yourself? 
(Michele)  I am a wife and mother of four, ages thirteen to three.   I work full time as a school nurse, but my greatest passion is evangelization.   I am the co-director of the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference, an author and speaker.
(Emily)  I am a wife, mother of seven, ages 18 years to 18 months.   I’ve been involved with women’s ministry for over 10 years with my radio apostolate, A Mother’s Moment and I am also part of the leadership team for the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference. I enjoy sharing the message of the gospel as an author and speaker.

Michele,What qualities were you looking for In your most important friendships e.g in Emily?
(Michele) In The Friendship Project, we wrote about eight virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, gratitude, loyalty, generosity and prayerfulness.
If we had to boil it down to just a few, we’d say we would want all of our friends to be faithful and faith-filled. As we wrote in The Friendship Project,  “a loyal friend is faithful to her word….looking through the eyes of our loyalties reveals a lot about our hearts.”   True friends are there in good times and bad, showing support in difficultly and also celebrating the good times.   However on top of loyal and faithful, having a friend whose eyes are fixed on Christ and helping you grow closer in your relationship to God is the most important quality.

At which point did you decide that your friendship was of value and one worth investing in? 
(Emily) We both realized in college as we had our own awakening and deep conversions of heart that spiritual friendships were important to invest in.  As we continued to grow in our faith in our adult lives and work in ministry in our adult lives together, we also realized we were spending our time focusing on doing good things and spreading the Gospel instead of gossiping or making idle talk.  We quickly came to realize how God was using our friendship to sanctify us and push us along in our faith journeys.

What do you think Christianity added to Aristotle's concept of friendship? 
(Michele) Christianity added the art of spiritual friendship, or inviting God into the friendship.  These friendships, according to St. Aelred of Rievaulx must “begin in Christ, continue with Christ, and be perfected by Christ” and are true friendships.  It is through these friendships that lead us closer to God that our friendships can last into eternity!

How do you stop friendship from becoming cliquey ?
(Emily) It’s hard when you are satisfied with the dynamics of a group of friends to invite others in, but it’s important to be open to new friendships and deepening friendships with friends who you may only be an acquaintance with.   One thing we both really strive to do is be inviting to our bible study groups or women’s groups to invite everyone.  One thing my mom ingrained in my upbringing was to be hospitable and that “all are welcome – the more the merrier!”  She has been a great example to me to open up my home and my heart to others and I have been so blessed by that in my life.

When did you realise friendship is an important part of our journey of faith?
I think both of us realized early in our adult lives the difference it made having good friends who encouraged us in our walk as Catholics.  As we read what the saints wrote about friendship, we came to understand it more fully. St. Francis deSales shares that we live in a world that is indifferent, even hostile at times to our faith, so it is not only helpful to have spiritual friendships, but necessary!

Why did feel it was important to write a book about friendship? 
(Michele) As we travel around the country speaking about our first book, Divine Mercy for Moms, women often approach us and share that their favorite part of the book is when we talk about our friendship.  Emily and I have been blessed to know each other for over 20 years, since college.  I met my husband at Emily’s wedding and we have worked in Women’s ministry together over the past 15 years.   Many women shared with us that they too desired to have a close friendship in faith, so we knew that this was a topic women wanted to read more about.   As we researched friendship, we were overjoyed to see the amount of writing that the saints have done on the topic of friendship and its importance.  Friendship isn’t optional, but necessary!  St. Augustine writes “In this world two things are essential: life and friendship.  Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them.  Life and friendship are natures gifts.”  We also began to read about many of saints who had other saint friends while here on earth.   It was really eye opening to see that many of the great saints had close friendships on earth, and because of their mutual desire to serve God, they were able to help each other grow in holiness.

What did writing this book teach you?
(Emily)  We booth took a serious look at how we were living the virtues in all our relationships and made a conscious effort to grow in each of the eight virtues we wrote about.  We also realized how many relationships that we have let grow cold or die because of lack of attention.   While we can’t have deep and close relationships with everyone, we have learned that a little time and attention to relationships can bring new life into them.  We’ve both had the joy of reconnecting with old friends in the past few years while working on this project.  Writing about the saint friends was also very inspirational, and we both hope that we can be the type of friend that helps others get to heaven!

What advice would you give to ladies who are considering starting a Study group?
We promise you will be blessed!  We lead a group of over 30 women from across our diocese in the pilot study of The Friendship Project this past fall.  Most of the women in the group didn’t know each other, but many wonderful and beautiful new friendships were made.   We’ve made it easy for you with free invitations, ice breakers, recipe ideas, a downloadable journal and videos you can stream right online at! Not only is it easy, but also, all you need to purchase is the book – no extra charges for journals, videos or leader materials.   We feel so strongly about helping you develop these friendships, we want you to be able to lead a group without an extra financial burden. Check out our “quick start guide” for simple instructions on getting started.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pull Up a Pew #1. Fiorella Nash. Spreading the Pro Life Message at Home and in the Media

The first episode of 'Pull Up a Pew' interview for Catholic Mothers was supposed to be recorded on 13th May this year... Things didn't really work out that day, the sound system as well as the recording equipment gave up on me. My husband had an important meeting he couldn't miss, my high tech children were not available so we had to give up... man proposes and God disposes! Although that first episode never happened I have hopes for the future... in the meantime we decided to conduct the interview by correspondence and in the past few days I have had the honour of having a wonderful email exchange with Fiorella Nash: Mum, tireless pro-life campaigner and novelist to find out how she balances writing, media work and motherhood.

Today, (though not on our Catholic Mothers YouTube channel), I have the pleasure to introduce you to this wonderful woman.

Enjoy and share!

Tell us something about yourself?

I am married with four young children. I am a novelist, journalist and campaigner, specialising in pro-life feminism. This year, I have branched out a little with my writing and published my first work of detective fiction, following the exploits of Benedictine sleuth Fr Gabriel.

What inspired your interest in the pro-life movement?
Can you remember a moment or incident when you decided this was going to be your life’s work?

I can’t pretend that there was a single moment when I ‘discovered’ the pro-life movement or realised that my life was heading in that direction. It was a slower process than that. I remember hearing a White Flower Appeal at my church when I was about 14 and being appalled by the scale of the abortion tragedy. I had a strong sense already that abortion was a tragedy but I had never appreciated before then how common abortion was and what it actually involved. I became a member of SPUC soon after that and eventually became involved with student activism. I never initially imagined that I would work for the pro-life movement, I was mostly involved with left-wing social justice groups at that point, but I came to the realisation that social justice begins at home. I have always believed that pro-life campaigning should hold a central place in the struggle for justice, alongside fighting poverty and other forms of oppression.

Apologetics for Mothers

As mothers we are in contact at school and playgroups with the people who have the greatest say in the abortion debate, mothers themselves. What do you think is the best approach? Good arguments/ strategies

I don’t think there is a single strategy that works but there are a number of things to consider. I think it is important in these settings to establish friendships as it is always easier to have a difficult or controversial conversation with people you trust and have had a chance to get to know a little. I would also say, don’t be afraid to join in with the difficult conversations. Quite often, subjects such as abortion come up as part of a discussion about a particular news story that’s doing the rounds. A moment like that can offer the possibility of a much deeper conversation. I would also caution against assuming that everyone will be against you. In spite of the widespread acceptance of abortion in this country, many people are extremely concerned about abortion and are genuinely unaware of precisely what abortion involves.

I also think it is important to make it clear that you respect women and that you respect bodily integrity. I am keen to point out that, in the end, I oppose abortion because it ends a human life. I believe in freedom and equality for women, I have benefited and my daughters will continue to benefit from female emancipation, but in the end, freedom cannot be bought at the expense of human life.

People are often deeply invested in their point of view either because they or someone close to them has had an abortion. What is the best way to approach people without making them feel judged or condemned, or is that the best way?

I would never want to judge or condemn anyone – whatever they had done. I think that goes beyond the abortion debate. There is a difference between being honest about the wrongness of an act and shunning or shaming the person responsible. I don’t believe we have any right to do that. When it comes to abortion, if you have been personally touched by abortion, if a close friend or relative has had an abortion, I think it is important to acknowledge that. I always feel that there is a tendency to think that pro-life women live in some kind of a bubble, but that is simply not the case and it helps to dispense with that myth as early as possible. One of the reasons I believe in establishing friendships with others is precisely because it avoids the possibility of becoming judgemental. I am aware that women can be left in a desperately difficult situation during pregnancy, that abortion is sometimes mooted as the only option. I always start by acknowledging what might have led to the abortion and to make it clear that I am there for the person involved. Only then is it possible to start talking about the wrongness of abortion itself. Truth and compassion are not enemies.

In the UK where the abortion debate seems so niche in comparison with the United States what’s the best we can hope for?

To win! My daughter is a competitive figure skater and one of the first things she learnt was – never aim for mediocrity. Aim to get on the podium, even if you know the odds are against you. If you aren’t going to aim to win, why are you entering the competition in the first place? In the UK, we hope to do what any pro-life movement in the world hopes to do in the long run, change hearts and minds, make abortion unthinkable, build a culture of life in which both the pregnant mother and her baby are truly valued and protected. SPUC is fifty years old this year and when the Society was first founded, I doubt anyone believed the battle would be so long-drawn-out, but we must never lose hope. 

Media work

You’ve often been interviewed on the radio and TV. What’s your experience?

I have a lot more experience of radio than TV, partly because it is more practical – you can be interviewed for radio over the phone without having to go to a studio, so there tend to be more opportunities there and it is my favourite medium. I like the intimacy of the radio setting. Unlike TV, where there is a certain showmanship needed to appear before the cameras, speaking on the radio is more personal. People tend to listen to the radio alone – in their cars, pottering about the kitchen – so there is more of a sense of having a personal conversation with somebody, even you are having that conversation with thousands of individuals at the same time.

How do you prepare for media interviews?
I do as much background research as possible, which will include extensive reading and usually discussions with experts in the field and other members of the team at SPUC. I will usually alert friends via social media or personal messages to pray as I always feel more at ease if I know there are people praying when I go on air.

Have you had any real successes?
It is difficult to gauge how successful an appearance is, though my brief Woman’s Hour appearance generated a lot of feedback. I was happy with how it went because I was able to get a couple of points across in spite of the undisguised hostility of the presenter and the fact that she declared beforehand that a minority opinion like mine only required 4 minutes of airtime.

Have you experienced some real disasters?
Hahaha, now that would be telling! I have never had a complete and utter meltdown, but then I don’t think many people ever do. I have had occasions where I have felt very disappointed and upset afterwards because I have felt that I did not get my points across well or focus enough, particularly when I first started. The first speech I ever gave – ten days after starting the job – was an unmitigated disaster, but fortunately it was not recorded!

When the odds are stacked against you can any good come of such appearances?
A resounding YES to that, but I would qualify that by saying that one has to pick the right outlets. We are not media tarts, if you’ll forgive the expression, and no one is obliged to say yes to every media request. If there is a situation where the environment is going to be so hostile and the odds so stacked against you that there is no way you will ever be able to get your point across, it may be more constructive to decline. I have certainly had occasions where I would have declined if I had known that my opponent was going to be an aggressive, condescending bully and the promised ‘lively, light-hearted discussion’ a vicious slanging match.

Spreading the good news on social media

The space for discussion of abortion online is becoming ever more restricted. Pro life websites have been banned in France. What’s the current situation in the UK?

I am not aware of any pro-life sites being banned in the UK and in many ways, the rise of social media has invigorated pro-life debate. The media no longer has complete control over what stories are broadcast and which opinions are permitted airtime. Social media levels the playing field, allowing pro-life campaigners to get their message across more effectively. It has also made it much easier for groups and individuals to network and exchange ideas with organisations all around the world.

Mother’s groups and websites are very active on facebook/mumsnet etc. It’s not unheard of that people considering abortion practically put the decision to an online poll. Can and should we get involved and how?

When a woman is openly discussing the possibility of having an abortion, I think it is important to be the person who offers an alternative. I have heard women who regret their abortions say that if just one person had suggested an alternative or said ‘you don’t have to do this’ they would not have had the abortion. Go gently, maybe post the number of a helpline they could talk to. They may not pick up the phone, but at least you will know that you gave life a chance. The thing to avoid in a situation like that is getting into slanging matches or coming across as preachy. I once read a rant written by a woman instructing a post-abortive woman to ‘learn to save sex for marriage in future’ and the woman turned out to be married. All it did was to make the pro-life intervener look ridiculous and to provoke a venomous exchange from other posters. As with all online interaction, the first rule is: remember that you are dealing with another person here, imagine that you are interacting with them face-to-face before you post your comment.

Bringing up a pro-life family

What do you do in the home to pass on the pro-life message?

I answer all my children’s questions on life, marriage and sexuality as openly as possible, whilst keeping my answers age-appropriate. The most important piece of advice I ever received about building a pro-life ethos in your home is to avoid harsh words and criticism. I once read an article by a mum who talked about the damage done by parents who talk negatively about other people in front of their children and how it breeds a culture of fear and shame in a home. More than anything else, I try to build trust and respect within the family unit and to keep channels of communication open. I want my children to know that every family member is welcome and that, whatever they do, whatever mistakes they make in life, they are loved, the home will always be a place of safety for them and we can always try to work things out together.

Fiorella and her Novels

Click on the image to buy her books

Which books inspired you to write your own Catholic fiction?

I never set out to write Catholic fiction, but I have wanted to be a writer since I was a child and there have been too many influences on my writing to count. I once joked to a journalist that I would ‘like to be Evelyn Waugh’ but a friend told me that my books are so dark in places that I come across as much more a disciple of Graham Greene! If I were to name my two biggest inspirations, I would probably say Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Solzhenitsyn, both as a man and as a writer. I remember reading Ivan Denisovich when I was at school and being completely overwhelmed by how vivid it was. I kept thinking how amazing it would be to be able to write like that.  

Are you setting out to write a really good Catholic novel or a good novel that happens to be Catholic? 

Definitely the latter. First and foremost, I am a novelist not a propagandist or a theologian, nor do I write for an exclusively Catholic audience. However, I very much believe that if one lives and writes within the Catholic moral universe, the Faith will be very much present in the story.

What genre do you think  serves your purpose best and why?

My novels are mostly historical fiction, simply because I have an interest in history and in reconstructing the past. I am very interested in how we are influenced by past events and how the lives of ordinary people are changed by being alive at a particularly cataclysmic moment, such as the outbreak of war or the height of the Mediterranean slave trade.

Are there any genres you would like to try in future? 

I have been challenged to write a comedy – and that really would be a challenge! Who knows, maybe I will pluck up the courage to try one day…