On Saturday, 9th February, Mark attended the Ladywood District Convention, an initiative of Councillor Yvonne Mosquito. The Convention was not just for the Aston Ward but for the Ladywood, Soho and Nechells Wards as well. The slogan was Proud Place, Proud People. The participants numbered about 90 in all, many of whom were government employees or belonged to service providers. There were four workshops. Mark attended the workshop about Neighbourhood and Environment. Mark found it interesting to learn what others are doing in their respective areas. On the negative side, he regretted that only a handful of Asians were present among the participants!
On Sunday, noon time, we had a visitor in the person of Fr. Alan Whelan MSC. He will represent the Irish Province of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at the meeting of the European leaders of the congregation in March. The Aston mission being a European project is always on the agenda. The purpose of meeting with Fr. Alan was to look at the state of the Cordate Community, both in terms of personnel and finances. Ton is leaving in March and it is not yet clear whether his designated successor will receive a visa. A few days later we had a similar discussion, this time together with Sr. Anna O’Connor. We looked back at our ministry of presence in Aston and mapped alternative routes into the future. We agreed that if the new man does not receive his visa, the Cordate Community is in crisis indeed.
In the afternoon of 10th February Danny Van Beeumen, Mark’s brother, arrived for a short holiday. It was snowing on the following morning, but it did not deter Mark and Danny to set off north for the Peak District. They were fortunate that the snow did not cause them any major problem. This was also the day that Pope Benedict announced his resignation to the world. It became instantly the talk of the day.
The Aston Voice Residents Association (AVRA) meets every Tuesday of the month. This time the usual meeting place, Prince Albert School, was exchanged for The Lighthouse, the new youth centre at Six Ways. We were fourteen in all, ten members and four guests. We got a much appreciated tour of the building and its splendid facilities. The Lighthouse serves not only Aston but also Newtown and Lozells. Its location is right on the boundary of these three neighbourhoods. The staff consists of four youth workers, no luxury for this part of Birmingham with high youth unemployment and a young population.
13th February was Ashwednesday, the beginning of Lent. We did not have Mass in our own chapel but went to the parish church for the blessing of the ashes. Ton left his cross of ashes on his forehead during the whole day prompting two people to ask what was wrong with him. Unfortunately, paying for your purchases while people are queuing up behind you is not the right time to give an elaborate explanation!
On 18th February Sr Mary-Grace Ogbaje, one of the Nigerian sisters in our parish, celebrated her birthday and the fact that she graduated from a PGCE Course. The celebration was supposed to start at 6:00pm but because the graduation ceremony in the City Centre ran behind schedule our Mass started 45 minutes late. The people in the church waited patiently until Sr Mary-Grace arrived. The celebration had a Nigerian touch, not just the food afterwards, but also the Mass itself. The singing and the homily by a Nigerian priest had an informal African style.
Ton has been attending meetings for the last time. The deanery meeting was one of them and so was the Diocesan Interfaith Commission on 19th February. The latter happened to be the annual gathering of the Commission attended by Archbishop Bernard Longley. Words of regret at Ton’s leaving were said by several members as indeed by the archbishop himself.