Annual Review 2019

Introduction by Bishop Nicholas Hudson

I am pleased to be able to present to you the Westminster Youth Ministry Annual Review for 2019, a year that contained many memorable moments in our youth ministry’s outreach, of which I will mention just a few.

In March, Pope Francis published his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit, reflecting on young people, faith and vocational discernment. As well as being a guide for those working in youth ministry, Pope Francis, throughout the exhortation, often speaks directly to the young, in particular asking them to take on board three essential truths: that they are loved by God, that Christ saves them and that he is alive in the here and now. He then adds, “If in your heart you can learn to appreciate the beauty of this message, if you are willing to encounter the Lord, if you are willing to let him love you and save you, if you can make friends with him and start to talk to him, the living Christ, about the realities of your life, then you will have a profound experience capable of sustaining your entire Christian life. You will also be able to share that experience with other young people.” Christus vivit is an invaluable reference point in the work of Westminster Youth Ministry as they seek to make this vision more of a reality for our young people.

The theme of remaining close to the Lord was once again taken up by the Holy Father in his homily at the Mass of canonisation for St. John Henry Newman in October in Rome. I was able to be present for the canonisation and celebrate Mass in the Venerable English College for a group of young adults brought to Rome by the Outreach team for the occasion, as well as give them a tour of the college and the Newman exhibition being hosted there. In his homily, Pope Francis, quoting the writings of St. John Henry, prayed “Jesus, stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light for others.”

One place this is beautifully manifested is on the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, which I was privileged to attend again. It was a joy to spend time with the Redcaps, those young people who support and care for the assisted pilgrims that are at the centre of the pilgrimage. In particular, we were able to spend some time at the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a moving experience as the Redcaps renewed the promises of their baptism and were sprinkled with the water of Lourdes. This year, the Outreach team of Westminster Youth Ministry, with the support of the Cardinal’s Appeal, was able to take a full chaplaincy team to support the Redcaps and, as the Holy Father mentions, to help root the care they show for the assisted pilgrims in the love that springs from our being close to the Lord.

The work of both the diocesan youth retreat centre, SPEC, and the Outreach team, seeks to bring home this essential message to our young people. In the pages that follow, I trust you will find good examples and useful practical information on how this vital mission is being carried out.

I commend the mission and work of Westminster Youth Ministry to your prayers and the intercession of St. John Henry Newman.

May God bless you always.

+Nicholas Hudson
Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster

The Newman Canonisation

In October 2019, a group of around 20 young adults from the Diocese of Westminster embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Rome for the canonisation of Saint John Henry Newman.

For a group of young people who had met only once before the trip, we all bonded quickly and began our day with Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer in the Duty Free of the airport!

For a relatively short pilgrimage, we managed to fit in a great deal of sightseeing and as many of our pilgrims had never been to Rome before, we felt lucky to be able to spend the whole of Saturday giving a brief history of many of the sights thanks to our Diocesan Youth Chaplain, Fr. Mark Walker. Some of the highlights included visiting St. Paul outside the Walls, some of the major basilicas, the Forum and the Colosseum.

On the Saturday evening, we attended a prayer vigil presided by Archbishop Bernard Longley, where we joined hundreds of other pilgrims to invoke the prayers of the new saint-to-be for all those gathered in the church, and their intentions. It was incredibly moving to be surrounded by so many people in such a beautiful atmosphere of prayer and for many of our pilgrims it was the highlight of their pilgrimage. The evening then moved into a celebratory concert of sacred music, including polyphony and Gregorian chant, with the Choir from the London Oratory School in Ealing. It was a stunning evening and really set the tone for the canonisation – the excitement was tangible!

Early on Sunday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast before heading down to St. Peter’s Square, which was already full of people queuing to get the best possible seats. We were incredibly blessed to get seats – and good ones at that – reasonably near the front of the square with a great view. As Mass started, the excitement changed to a real peacefulness and it was a huge privilege to witness not only the canonisation of John Henry Newman but also four holy women from Italy, Switzerland, India and Brazil become Saints.

We also had time to visit the Venerable English College and were given a tour by Bishop Nicholas Hudson, who used to be the rector. This included exploring the chapel and the stories of the English martyrs, as well as an exhibition about John Henry Newman.

World Youth Day Panama

In January 2019, just over 20 young pilgrims headed to Panama for World Youth Day. We had an amazing time with Catholics from all over the world and enjoyed times of fellowship, sightseeing, prayer, encounter and seeing the pope multiple times!

Our itinerary took us through beautiful Costa Rica before arriving in Panama. We enjoyed some gorgeous nature and wild life in Costa Rica and got familiar as a group – sharing our personal journeys and how we ended up on this pilgrimage together. As the number of pilgrims was around 700,000 for the Final Mass, it was far smaller than Krakow’s 3.5 million, which allowed for a more relaxed experience in a way. This was the first WYD hosted in Central America and the theme was the words of Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38).

The Stations of the Cross with the pope was also a highlight, as Central and South American countries were represented with their Marian devotions, which was very special. It wasn’t a long, drawn out ceremony in the burning sun, but a well-set-up prayer with different highlights, which made it very personal and beautiful to participate in.

In Panama, we were able to get really close to the front for Adoration and the Final Mass, which made it extra special. The times of catechesis were very blessed as we joined with other English-speaking groups, although the sun was brutal as there was little shade there!

It was a wonderful experience to witness the universality of the Church and be able to visit a country so different from the UK, but with the same God no matter where anyone is from. A year later, we still have our WYD Panama WhatsApp group and many of us are still in contact.

We look forward to WYD 2022, as the journey continues in Lisbon, and we are called to lead in our parishes and communities in the new evangelisation, following Mary’s central example: “Mary arose and went with haste” (Luke 1:39).

SPEC Retreat Centre

SPEC is the Diocese of Westminster Catholic youth retreat centre, based in a beautiful and tranquil seven-acre pocket of North London.

As part of the Diocese of Westminster Youth Ministry, SPEC has been welcoming groups in Pinner for nearly six years. Our vision at SPEC is for the young people of the diocese to strengthen their relationship with Christ through our residential and day retreats from school years 5-13 and Confirmation groups within the diocese.

All residential retreats include full board, with a variety of indoor and outdoor activities such as games, songs, talks, group activities, prayers, fellowship and Eucharistic adoration in our chapel, all the while exploring our faith, beliefs and values.

We have a team of Retreat Leaders and a group of volunteer missionaries who support the young people on the retreats. The volunteer missionaries commit to a year of deepening their faith whilst making long-lasting connections and share their experiences with Christ with a group of amazing young people. We are always recruiting for new volunteer missionaries, with the process starting in late June. Over the last 12 months, SPEC has welcomed over 5,000 young people and many departments from the Diocese of Westminster, such as Safeguarding, Education and Evangelisation to name but a few.

We have also achieved the following: For Parishes, we introduced a communion retreat to take place in March 2020 following feedback from priests during the new Priests induction day, which is now fully booked. Due to its popularity, we will be releasing 2021 dates this summer. We have scheduled Catechists retreats for November 2020 which will be open for bookings soon. SPEC will also be holding a Family Prayer retreat in collaboration with Pulse in spring and a Family Day Out at Spec for families who are unable to go on holiday.

For schools, a Year 6 Transitional Retreat was held for younger retreatants to help them build resilience, preparing them to cope with all the changes in a school that a move from Year 6 to Year 7 can bring. In addition, we hosted a Youth Leadership Retreat with key speakers such as Dame Mary Richardson, Brenden Thomson from Catholic Voices and Mark Besford of Young Christian Workers. Our young people engaged positively and found the talks inspiring. They took on board Dame Mary’s words to embrace and not to fear failure. They equally enjoyed Brenden’s tips on Public Speaking. This is all part of our goal to develop the future leaders of the Church.

Locally, SPEC has also opened its doors to the Pinner community, where we have recruited enthusiastic volunteers to help maintain the beautiful seven acres of stunning grounds. SPEC plans to hold local community events which include an outdoor concert in the summer in addition to many, many more, to bring the community together and to help fundraise for the refurbishment of the chapel.

We’re looking forward to another exciting year where we continue to bring together and support young people through our planned events and retreats.

Residential retreat snapshot by Anthony Bradnum, SPEC Retreat Leader:

During the Reconciliation service on a residential Confirmation retreat, we always encourage the young people to take the opportunity to go to Confession. A member of the team shares their experience of the sacrament, the Chaplain reminds the young people how to make a confession and we have different prayer stations set up to help them prepare for, and reflect, on their confession. Even with all this provided, some young people can still find it daunting to approach the sacrament.

I remember on a recent retreat seeing a candidate looking nervous, but hovering around the Confession station. When I asked her about it, she said she wasn’t brave enough to open the door. I encouraged her and opened the door and she sheepishly went in. Not long after, she came up to me and said, “That was amazing! I feel so free! Thank you for opening the door.” All the nervousness and worry had drained away from her face and she was now beaming and cheerful.

It felt like such a small thing for me to open the door, but for her it was a huge obstacle. Her cheerfulness and gratitude was a reminder to me of how God moves in people’s lives when we play our part, no matter how simple or small it seems to us.

Ministry and community by JJ Hussem, SPEC Retreats & Formation Manager:

This academic year, we have seven wonderful volunteer missionaries serving with us. They hail from all over the world! On Tuesdays, we have been going to the London Jesuit Centre in Mayfair to take part in the Scripture and Theology courses offered there and we are having some great guest speakers come to SPEC this year to lead formation as well, like former chair of Sue Ryder, Jane Nicholson, who is the founder of FARA.

This academic year we were able to do a short teambuilding adventure as a community to Budapest, which was very blessed. We connected with former Hungarian volunteer missionaries that have served with us during past years, spread the word about our mission year and were able to have a time of team investment for which we are very grateful.

We are currently recruiting for the 2020-2021 mission year. We are aiming for 12 young adults aged 18-25 to join us, and count on you all as well to spread the word about this incredible opportunity for young adults to live in community, pray together, receive formation and be active in youth ministry in our diocese.

We’ve been working with many schools and parishes with different age groups represented, from St Benedict’s in Ealing, Douay Martyrs in Hillingdon to St Joseph’s in Waltham Cross and Our Lady of Lourdes in Acton, and many more. Please keep us in your prayers!

Volunteer missionary vibe by Marie-Clare Hayden, SPEC Volunteer Missionary (Ireland):

Our aim here at SPEC through the retreats is to minister God’s love and word to the young people through various talks, scripture, activities with meaning behind them, Mass, Eucharistic adoration and games. We hope that, through this, it will help plant a seed in the young peoples’ lives that will help them in moving forward on their own spiritual journey.

My experience at SPEC so far has been challenging (in a good way!), rewarding, exciting, enjoyable and a journey. It has certainly made me step out of my comfort zone, but also encouraged me to journey with Christ, work with young people, share my faith journey and live and work with the most incredible people.

Some highlights of ministry and community life here have been being a witness to seeing and listening to the young peoples’ faith journey, or personal encounter with Christ over their time with us. This could be through speaking with them in small groups where they have shared how they were touched by one of our talks or sessions, or realising that it really is Jesus present in the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass. I particularly love seeing the transformation in their faces after coming out of reconciliation, or realising that God loves them, because so many were unaware of this simple fact! I have loved growing together with Christ in community life, and creating another spiritual family within the community, and enjoy spending time getting to know one another. Young adults, come and visit!

Parishes and Schools

Westminster Youth Ministry had a great year of collaboration and growth in 2019.

We have been focusing on serving the young people in the diocese through collaborating with Parish Catechists and Youth Workers and we hope to continue to grow those partnerships. It has been a great opportunity for us to meet with some incredibly gifted leaders and help to grow their own initiatives whilst also creating and customizing sessions and retreats to suit their young people.

Youth Leader Network

We are in the process of developing our Youth Leader Network, which will be available to all parish and youth workers, providing days of reflection, training and the opportunity to be in ongoing contact with each other, which will be invaluable to their work. We also think it is important for these hardworking, and yet often-overlooked people, to get the thank you they deserve!

Holy Land

Later this year, we hope to be going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where we hope to bring a group of 20 young adults and visit many of the important locations of the New Testament. Please pray for us as we prepare for the pilgrimage and we will be praying for all the needs of the diocese while we are there!

The Summit

In 2019 we continued our work, delivering The Summit at a deanery level across the diocese. It has been a fantastic success and we have seen larger numbers of attendees than ever. Many of the parishes we have worked with over the past year have partnered with other local parishes to help run the events, which has been a joy to witness!

We were extremely honoured to hold a larger Summit at Westminster Cathedral in October with over 500 young people in attendance. Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Brenden Thompson of Catholic Voices joined us for an evening of joy, challenge and deep reflection.

Since our cathedral Summit, we have been offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation at our deanery Summits and have seen large numbers of young people take the opportunity to partake in the Sacrament. We hope our young people continue to encounter Christ both in Eucharistic Adoration and in one another.


We had some fantastic opportunities in 2019 to visit many schools within the diocese, supporting them with retreat days and assemblies, covering a number of areas including our mission as young Catholics to spread the Gospel. Hopefully, in 2020 we can grow our connections with schools across the whole diocese and continue to walk with the young leaders in their ministries.

The Future

The year 2019 for Westminster Youth Ministry has been one of reaching out to young people that are at the heart of the Catholic parish and school communities. The role of WYM is to evangelise and the year ahead will be a continuation of responding as best as possible to the spiritual needs of our young generation and using the best possible approach to evangelisation.

In 2020, we will continue to enable parishes and Catholic schools to accompany young people in their journey towards Christian maturity through the delivery of a focused and co-ordinated youth service. We will focus on improving the quality of our engagement and expanding on the mission of youth ministry.

In practical terms, the Westminster Youth Ministry Outreach team (WYMO) will run schools outreach scheme, focusing on a leadership programme linking schools and parishes. The Summit programme for deaneries proved to be popular, with an average attendance of 100 young people, and will continue to be developed further. There are already 15 deanery Summits scheduled for 2020, which ideally will be delivered locally by youth leaders and supported by WYMO. There are also plans for a diocesan-wide Summit at Westminster Cathedral in the autumn; an event which in 2019 attracted over 500 young people.

Part of our role as youth ministry is to offer support and resources to all those involved in youth work in the diocese. We will continue supporting the projects of parish/school youth ministers that deliver youth leadership programmes in schools and in the parishes local to them. Also, we are at the early stages of setting up a Youth Leader Network that will give a platform for those involved in parish youth ministry to meet, train and share their experiences.

Closer collaboration with other diocesan agencies, such as Education, Evangelisation and Caritas, will continue to develop further – as will quarterly Resonate events for young adults; gatherings to pray, reflect and discuss issues faced by young Catholics. A regular quarterly Youth Mass at the crypt of Westminster Cathedral is now well established and is firmly in the diary of WYM for 2020.

WYMO will continue coordinating and supporting the annual Diocesan events such as pilgrimages to Lourdes and Walsingham. This year, we are also planning a youth pilgrimage to the Holy Land and will start coordinating Westminster’s presence at the Flame Congress in March 2021. We will also begin planning for the forthcoming World Youth Day in Portugal in summer 2022.

The SPEC Retreat Centre, the other branch of WYM, has hosted a significant number of school retreats in 2019. We strongly believe that children and young people benefit from the residential retreats because their impact is so much greater. The emphasis in 2020 will be on moving from one-day retreats to residential retreats for primary and secondary school students. The quality of retreats will continue to be of paramount importance – hence we will be implementing an improved retreat programme. Likewise, we will be improving our formation programme for the retreat staff and volunteers. We hope to attract more local-to-the-diocese volunteers who will want to spend a year at the Retreat Centre, deepening their faith and helping with the retreats.

We will continue with developing further and improving our grounds and retreat facilities. One of the aims is to make at least part of our grounds and buildings wheelchair accessible. This will complement one enabled room and access by lift in our residential complex.

The financial security of the Centre is of importance and we are in the process of developing plans that would guarantee this. These activities will take place at times when retreats are not being delivered and will be aimed at those who support the mission of the Retreat Centre and Westminster Youth Ministry. Most of all, we hope that the centre, a valuable resource for the Diocese of Westminster, will become a place to go for many parishes and schools. After all, we are here to assist and everyone is welcome to either book or just drop in to see what is on offer. We hope that the year 2020 will be blessed and lay firm foundations for many young people we encounter on our journey of faith.