The Carmelite Order has enjoyed many highpoints in its 800 year history. No doubt 2009 will be remembered as a particularly fruitful year by the Carmelite friars, nuns, apostolic sisters and laity of Britain.
In September-October, Carmelites were immersed in the country’s largest Catholic event for decades, the visit of the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The reliquary drew tens of thousands of pilgrims to some 30 venues across England and Wales, giving Carmelites an opportunity to share Thérèse’s radical echoing of the Gospel message that God is merciful. Thérèse’s teaching that all one has to do is remain small and receptive to God’s grace is so simple, yet so profound, that it
overcame denominational barriers. York Minster became the first Anglican Cathedral to receive the relics, and its Dean penned the introduction to a book on Thérèse’s love of Scripture, The Gospel Sustains Me, produced by the publishing house of the British Province of Carmelites, Saint Albert’s Press. The Province, in conjunction with York Minster and other partners, sponsors the Ebor Lectures on Theology and Public Life, a series which includes the Archbishop of Canterbury and Tony Benn among its speakers.
The relics of St. Thérèse returned to France via Aylesford Carmelite Priory in Kent; over 15,000 people came to venerate the relics there, from various nationalities, walks of life, and indeed different faiths. A few weeks later the Carmelite Family convened at Aylesford to celebrate the return of the ‘Whitefriars’ to their ancient home sixty years ago in 1949. Today Aylesford is a place of welcome for all people seeking an encounter with God.
The visit of the relics to various Carmelite priories was filmed by Michael Whyte, who recently completed a
documentary about the Discalced Carmelite nuns at Notting Hill. Entitled No Greater Love, it will be released next year, and offers a glimpse into another side of the Carmelite vocation, that of prayer and service balanced
between solitude and community.
Though Carmelite nuns live somewhat apart from the world, they are very conscious of their impact upon it. In the summer of 2009 the sisters at Thicket Priory near York transferred to a new monastery building which has been designed with environmental concerns as a priority, hence its geothermal heating and solar panels. Concern for the integrity of Creation has led Carmelites to involve themselves in prayer and action; not only will Carmelite religious and laity be marching in the ‘Wave for Climate Justice’ in London this week, but a delegation from the Order’s NGO will be praying and lobbying at the forthcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Earlier this year some of the five young friars in initial formation in the British Province took part in Operation Noah’s climate campaign rally in Westminster.
Looking ahead to next year, a major project will be the ‘Pilgrimage of Hope’. Carmelite communities across Europe will be giving young people amongst whom they minister the opportunity to go to Rome, in preparation for the World Youth Days to be held in Madrid in 2011. Some of these young people are in contact with Carmelite Spirituality Groups across Britain, a new form of community inspired by the Order’s way of life and particularly appealing to younger people considering a vocation to Carmel as either a lay person or as a religious.
Looking back over 2009, Carmel in Britain has never seemed busier. Yet all these activities are caught up into the Carmelites’ contemplation of God, and their ongoing life of prayer and service, lived in community. Whether at work, at prayer or at rest, God’s love and sustaining grace is at the heart of all that Carmelites strive to do and to be.
For more information about the Carmelite Family, please visit www.carmelite.org