With its green dome and cupola, St. Joseph's church on Highgate Hill is a well known landmark in North London. But all the architectural interest of the fabric of the building means far less to the parishioners than the spiritual solace to be found within its walls. The parish is run by a religious order from the Passionists Monastery ("The Retreat") next door with the help of dedicated assistants and volunteers. The Passionists (the full name is Congregation of the Passion, initials CP), have chosen to follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul of the Cross*, who founded the Order in Italy in 1720. Brought to England in 1841 by Dominic Barberi*, whose vocation was to pray for England and for Christian Unity. The Passionist who was most influential in the history of St. Joseph's was Father Ignatius Spencer CP, who preached Ecumenism in this country long before it became an accepted aim for all Christians.
Following St Paul of the Cross's example, they wear a long black robe with the sacred heart and cross emblem, and in addition to the usual religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, take a fourth vow to promote the loving memory of the Passion of Christ. Their aim is to "preach the crucified Christ to all people". Through prayer and meditation on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, they can empathise with human suffering from a different, redeeming perspective by reaching out to the hidden resources of the soul. By giving up their personal life for the sake of Christ, they are free to give Christian love and understanding to people from all walks of life, and instill in them a new approach to suffering. In a materialistic society such as ours at the end of the 20th century, it is good to know that the Passionists are there, getting closer to God through prayer and meditation on our behalf, testifying to the power of the spirit to change people and events.
Josette Guédès © 1999
* St. Paul of the Cross was born in Ovada in Italy in1694, was drawn early to a life of prayer and good works, and finally led to form the Congregation of the Passion. Missioner extraordinary, mystic who reached surpassing heights of contemplation and spiritual guide. Prayed for fifty years for the return of England to christian unity. Died in 1775.
* The Blessed Dominic Barberi CP was one of the glories of the Church in England. Born near Rome in 1792 and orphaned at a young age, he was denied a proper education by family circumstances, but received a divine intimation early in his life that he would one day work in Northern Europe and England. He joined the Passionists, faced and overcame continuing obstacles in the pursuit of his divine call, and finally came to England in 1841. He died in 1849 worn out with preaching missions and work for the return of England to christian unity. He is buried in the Passionist church in St. Helen's, Lancs. During his life he received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church. Beautified in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council. Another miracle is needed for his canonization.
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