Lenten recollection at English School, African Catholic Chaplaincy Finland by Hanna Kaisa Piironen, Study of Religions, University of Helsinki
On Saturday 10th of March, I arrived at the English School of Helsinki a few minutes after nine. Father Leonard opened the door and kindly welcomed me to the event, African Catholic Chaplaincy’s one day lenten retreat. Inside in the dining hall, people were already sitting at the tables, and more arrived little by little. At the time to start the retreat, almost all the seats were occupied. The final number of participants, including children, was c. 30 persons.
I participated this retreat as a researcher. I am a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, and I am conducting a study of multicultural Catholicism in contemporary Finland, focusing on Catholics from Africa. I am interested of religious practices and experiences in Catholic migrants’ everyday lives, and the significance of religion in identity construction and integration processes. I have been participating in African Masses and other events starting from January 2018. As I am not African neither Catholic, I definitely need all possible help I can get for my research, and I am very grateful to Father Leonard and all Chaplaincy members for giving me such a warm and approving welcome. I sincerely hope that no one has felt distracted by my presence.
Main themes for this retreat were “My Choices and Decisions in Life as A Christian” and “Catholic Christian”. First session, from 9.15 to 11.30, was about recognizing one’s personal strengths and building up one’s identity as a Catholic Christian. The subject discussed was, how the choice of being Catholic includes an acceptance of Catholic doctrines and requires a decision of living according to them. In this, especially when confronting the apparently secularised life in Europe, or people with different religious opinions and views, it was pointed out that a strong identity and positive self-concepts are needed in order to maintain one’s decisions. Participants discussed of how to answer non-Catholic people’s questions about e.g. devotion to Mary or praying the Rosary and shared their experiences and thoughts about Catholic life. In the beginning and in the end of this session people stood up to pray.
Second part, starting from 12.30, included both discussion and Bible studying. The verses studied were from the Message of the Holy Father Francis for Lent 2018. Comparison of different English translations led to vivid discussion about the meaning and message of these verses. To conclude the session two questions were brought up for participants to reflect concerning life as a Catholic Christian: What actions would you take in personal level? What actions would you take in relationships with others?
At the end of the day participants climbed upstairs into a small chapel of the English School. In the wall of the chapel there were fourteen beautifully carved wooden pictures, and Stations of the Cross, a lenten devotion to contemplate the Passion of Christ, was meditated in front of these. After the Stations, the Mass and Eucharist was celebrated. Powerful singing resonated in all the chapel, creating an atmosphere of cohesiveness. At 17.00, after a long, but noticeably refreshing day, the African Catholic Chaplaincy’s retreat – a combination of discussion, prayer, Bible reading and reflection – was over.