Thomas Starkie, 17, is a member of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He belongs to the Manchester Ordinariate Mission, where he manages the website and plays the organ at Sunday Mass.
I only vaguely remember the election of Pope Benedict XVI – I was nine at the time. We were staying with a friend, and watched it on her TV, all very excited, just waiting to see what the outcome of the election would be. At the time we were Anglicans, however, so for me, life went on, and the Pope seemed for the most part just a fairly important person belonging to some other denomination that didn’t really concern me. It was only a year or two later that Catholicism, and the Holy Father, came back to my thoughts; I went on a short retreat with some young Catholics, to Holy Island. What particularly struck me there was that, during the talks on different aspects of Catholicism, everything was based on what was true. I found myself in an environment where there was a great deal of certainty, because there was also truth. The questions being asked by the other participants were not seeking answers that were comforting, not seeking for personal opinions to be justified, but looking for the true answer to everything. This struck me partially because, at the centre of the answers was the church, the church’s teachings on faith, on scripture. And at the head of the church on Earth was the Pope. Guiding the church to the truth. For me then, that was pretty amazing, and I really wanted to keep finding the Truth. At that point I was fairly sure that I wanted to become a Catholic.
Skipping forward a few years, and we had Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Papal visit to Britain. Suddenly things began moving. Not only was there a sudden opening – an invitation – for Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic church, but the Pope was coming to England to beatify Cardinal Newman, who was to become the patron of the Ordinariate in England and Wales.
The first time I saw Pope Benedict was during his visit, at the Hyde Park vigil. Although at the time I did not fully realise it, that evening has been one of the most significant points in my life. The thing that stood out the most for me was the wisdom of his words – he put so much meaning into every sentence – and the way he was able to convey his meaning to everyone so easily. As he spoke he reached out to everyone, and spoke to everyone; he spoke on a level that everyone could understand.
Thanks to Pope Benedict’s invitation, I was received into the Catholic church as a member of the Ordinariate at the Easter Vigil of 2011, and for my confirmation name, I looked back to that retreat on Holy Island, and thought of the Northumbrian saints. I chose Bede.
In the summer of 2012, we went on a family pilgrimage to Rome, where we attended the Papal audience, and also the Papal Mass on the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The moment that I particularly remember was the beginning of the Creed. When I heard Pope Benedict chant Credo in unum Deum, that was amazing. The Creed had been fairly automatic for me before that, a prayer that I just said without really thinking, but this actually made me want to jump up and shout “Me too!”
A few weeks later, I went on another Catholic youth retreat, this time to Walsingham for the Youth 2000 Searchlight prayer festival. Nothing could possibly have prepared me for what happened there. It was during the Healing Service, when the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament was being carried from person to person, each one reaching out in reverence to touch the humeral veil, in a wonderful recalling of the healing of the woman who touched the cloak of Jesus, when I realised, inexplicably, that what I was seeing was the real presence of Jesus. It sounds like something fairly obvious, as it is, after all, a fundamental church teaching that the blessed sacrament is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t even that I didn’t know this. It was just a sudden realisation of everything that that meant. I was absolutely awed. I prayed then something that I’d never prayed before. Jesus, I open my heart to you. Then, absolutely out of nowhere, I felt a calling. A calling to the Priesthood. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I had returned home, that I remembered the Pope’s address in Hyde Park. I was watching the DVD ‘The Calling’, about vocations, which contained a clip from the address. The words seemed now to be addressing me directly about my journey into Catholicism:
Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what ‘definite service’ he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart… Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say ‘yes!’ Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfill your vocation.
Hyde Park Prayer vigil, 18/9/10