Clearly it is no easy task to cater for 1200 priests. It is a challenge even for the famous cuisine francaise. The photos which follow give you some indication of how the orgainser's oc the International Priests Retreat in Ars-sûr-Formans have risen to this challenge.
I am currently taking part in the International Priests' Retreat in Ars, France. This is the place where St John Vianney, was parish priest, the Curé d'Ars. I am here with Fr Jeremy Howard, also from the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
There are about 1200 priests on retreat here from all parts of the world though mostly from France ( and very few from the UK).
Two first impressions.
1. The clergy here are so young - especially - those from Africa and Southern Anerica. As we waited in the airport to be transferred to Ars, Fr Jeremy and I were clearly the most senior of those who had flown in. The age range among the participants today is a little more comfortable with us, but it is still very obvious, to paraphrase Popd Benedict XVI, that the Catholic Church is very young, especially in the developing world.
2. Language and Liturgy. There are very few English speakers here, and the principal language for the talks is, not surprisingly, French. However the Liturgy - Mass, Lauds and Vespers - is celebrated is several languages. Mass today moved from Latin to Italian almost unnoticeably. We have used traditional plainsong, alongside some Taizé and similar chants and other modern liturgical music. It is interesting how natural this has all seemed, and how comfortably this all fits together. It is a triumph, I think, of what some now call 'the ordinary form' and proof if such were needed, of its complete pre-eminence.
I've just arrived home after a Welcome Mass in a local secondary school for the children new in Year 7 and for their parents.
It was a pretty good celebration as these things go, and despite the fact that it took place in the evening, there was a good turnout from pupils and their parents (at a guess I'd say about half the pupils in the year and their parents were present).
It is amusing though, at such an event, to reflect on those secularists who portray Catholic schools (and others) as representing an illiberal manipulation of the minds of the young. They know so little about the institutions they criticise - little about the good work they do, little about the real extent of religious "indoctrination".
Here's a case in point. At the time for holy communion one of the parents came to me, having stood in line with the other adults and some of the children. She stood still before me. No extending of the hands or opening of the mouth to receive communion. No placing of the hand on the heart to indicate that she had come for a blessing.
"Do you take communion?" I said. She looked at me puzzled. "Have you come for holy communion?" I repeated, rephrasing the question slightly and speaking a little more loudly and slowly. She looked at me quizzically again, paused then said: "I'm sorry, duck, you've completely lost me."
I said a quick prayer of blessing and indicated - politely I trust - that she could walk on.