British Carmelite Family, Teresa 5th Centenary year
Throughout 2015 Carmelite communities around the world have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of St Teresa of Avila, one of the most important women in the Catholic Church.
St Teresa of Avila was a Spanish mystic and reformer of the Carmelite order. Her spiritual teachings are recognised as some of the most important texts in Christian literature.
The Carmelite Order grew from a community of hermits near the Cave of Elijah on Mount Carmel in the 13th Century. St Teresa of Avila, with the help of St John of the Cross, reformed the Order and the new branch became the Discaled (barefoot) Carmelites. Teresa wanted to return to the original ideals of silence and solitude in a small community dedicated wholly to prayer.
In the UK there are 15 monasteries of nuns in England, Scotland and Wales. The communities are known as monasteries not convents as the nuns live in silence and are enclosed. The sisters only leave the monastery for medical reasons. Currently there are more than 200 sisters, of whom ten are in the preparatory stages of their religious life, prior to making their final commitment with solemn vows.
Five hundred years after her birth, Carmelite sisters still live the way of life that St Teresa marked out for them, with its daily rhythms and the essential priorities of prayer, manual work, spiritual reading and community life.
Like all contemplative orders, Carmelites are committed to the daily recitation of the Divine Office. This daily regime of prayers at traditional times establishes the basic structure of the contemplative day and charts the church's year with its various seasons and feast days. In addition, however, Teresa insisted that her sisters should dedicate two one-hour periods to silent, solitary prayer in general and the church in particular. Carmelite nuns continue this practice today.
In recent years agencies working within the homeless sector have seen a huge increase in the numbers of destitute East European migrants. It is currently estimated that a quarter of rough sleepers in London are from Eastern Europe.
I came across Mario in my local park. He was living on a mattress under a makeshift wooden shelter. He told me he was Romanian and had lived there throughout the last winter. He kept warm by walking around at night, sleeping from dawn until noon and spending his afternoons in the local library.
I followed him for a year and a half. During my time with him, Mario took various jobs, visited soup kitchens and looked for hostels. He often tried to find work on farms, but accession state migrants from Bulgaria and Romania cannot work without the employer applying for a permit. They are not entitled to any benefits unlike full EU members.
One night, Mario was attacked in the park. They stole his phone and shot him in the head with an air rifle. Traumatised, he went to A & E where two pellets were removed from his face. After this, the park no longer felt safe to him.
On the morning Mario left London I watched him dismantle his shelter leaving the place tidy. For a few months he worked on a farm, when the work dried up he returned to his old shelter. That winter was bitterly cold, eventually he found a place in the church’s Winter Shelter programme. When I last saw him he was settling into a hostel room and had found work.
In the last two decades there has been a steady increase in the prevalence of autism globally. Some people talk of this as an epidemic, with statistics estimating as many as 1 in 100 people are affected. Many people now know, at least indirectly, of someone with an autism spectrum disorder. The rise in autism diagnosis affects everyone as the education and social care budget runs into billions. The cause of autism is still unknown and there is no cure. Autism is an ‘invisible’ condition and difficult to understand.
Autism is a life-long developmental disability that affects how people make sense of the world around them. The ability to communicate and relate to others is most affected. Social imagination is affected too, children with autism are not naturally able to imitate so have difficulty with play and learning. Interests are restricted and repetitive this can range from obsessions to unusual body movements. Many people with autism are over or under sensitive to sounds, lights, tastes and smells.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, severely affected people often do not develop any speech and need 24 hour specialist care. At the other end of the spectrum are people with Asperger syndrome, some may live independently but still have difficulty with social communication.
Being autistic has been described as like arriving on an alien planet. The world is often confusing and overwhelming for those with the condition and anxiety levels are high. They may need to retreat into their own ‘space’ to cope.