Viewing entries tagged
Gap year

Misha, 22, Castlerigg

Misha, 22, Castlerigg

Hi, my name is Misha. I was born in Ukraine and at a young age my parents got divorced, and my father died shortly after that. Life wasn’t very pleasant at the beginning and so much pressure for my mother...

Bridget, 23, Millom

This year, more clearly than ever before in my life, I have come to recognize the unlimited power and love of God, from whom all goodness flows and in whom we can and must place our complete trust. Despite having had a very blessed Catholic upbringing and having had much support and involvement in the diocese and diocesan events and pilgrimages since the age of 15, with a family and a job I loved very much, I still felt there was something missing in my life and that the Lord was calling me to a deeper relationship with Him and that any concerns I had about leaving my former life He would sort Himself if only I would heed His call and make Him my centre. Therefore at the beginning of this year I visited, and shortly after, joined, a Catholic Community in Scotland called the Craig Lodge Community. And I can quite honestly say, in my eyes, it has been the best, most fruitful ‘Yes’ I have ever made. Through living the community life, based on prayer, service and evangelisation, in response to Our Lady’s call to holiness at Medjugorje, along with other young people who have also taken this year out and the families in the community, God has opened my eyes to what is truly important in life and what is merely distraction. And He has shown me how even with the most tentative of Yes’s to Him He can transform our lives and turn everything to good, even those things in our lives we once thought impossible. Through this time of healing and transformation I have not only been given the grace to deepen my relationship and understanding of who God is but also to gain a clearer understanding of who I am and what God is asking of me in my life and of the gifts and the graces He is giving each and every one of us every day to enable us to carry out His will and to live a truly happy and fulfilled life.

Emma, 19, Millom

This year I have been working at St Mary’s Catholic College Blackpool as a ‘gaplin’ with Christine. A ‘Gaplin’ is a gap-year chaplain in a programme organised by CAFOD and the Holy Child Jesus sisters in collaboration with the parishes and schools in Blackpool. It has been an amazing experience assisting the chaplaincy team at St Mary’s, leading assemblies and liturgies, and talking and supporting the young people. Part of the year’s programme was to go to Ghana to experience the work of the Holy Child Sisters who work as teachers and midwives. Before heading out to Ghana, I was apprehensive as I had no idea what it was going to be like. To prepare we had quite a few meetings with CAFOD, prayed mad about it, and got lots of injections. And then the day arrived. Any reservations left me as soon as I met the people we stayed with and how welcome we were made to feel. Everyone was so open with us and we were made to feel part of their community even before they knew us. All the children came to talk to us – I could not believe how they had so little but seemed so happy. We worked in the schools throughout the whole time and we spent a lot of time talking about our different ways of life. We spent quite a lot of time interviewing different people so that we could share their stories when we returned home. They all wanted to be interviewed, so we had literally millions and millions of interviews to work through. One of the things we
found out was that the children were so eager for education and most of them had jobs before and after school to pay for their education. The children would help their parents set up their stalls in the market or would sell fruit themselves from the roadsides, or fix people’s shoes… all just to get a few coins to pay for their school. I found the children so eager to learn, desperate to find out anything and everything, especially when it regarded football! In fact, it was the African Cup of Nations whilst we were out there and the whole country was in a state of football fever, screaming and waving chairs in the air! One thing which struck me was the amount of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in Ghana. Staying with the HCJ sisters,
we visited their novitiate house and it was inspiring to speak to so many young women who so loved their faith and had such a desire to share it with us. We also went to the seminary where we found hundreds of young men. Generally speaking, I couldn’t believe how strong faith was amongst the people, even when they face such struggles. Sometimes the Masses were two hours long, with Gospel choirs and everyone dancing everywhere! Coming back to England feels a bit like a let-down. Overall, I feel I have gained not only experience but a deeper understanding of the world and the difference in cultures, and would return straight away if I could. Because I have received so much, I want to be able to share all that I have learnt with anyone and everyone who will listen, and somehow bring some of the joy and faith that they
lived into our world.

Vincent, 23, San Diego

I come from San Diego in California and in late March of last year I randomly Google-searched “How to Become a Catholic Missionary”. I hadn’t thought it through but I knew that I had always wanted to do some kind of missionary work, and I hoped I would one day be able to go to a place like Africa or South America. On this particular night, all I had wanted to do was to read some stories of missionaries and how they came to be a volunteer in some exotic place overseas, something to inspire me and to motivate me to one day to follow my dream to become a missionary. I had no idea at the time that this late-night Google search would eventually end up in me moving from California to Northern England in a place I had never heard of before. After typing “How to Become a Catholic Missionary” into Google, I clicked on the first website at the top of the page and browsed through it. It looked quite confusing but as I was browsing the page all the way at the bottom there was this little link that said something like “Volunteers needed in the UK”. So I clicked on that link which took me to this other which listed voluntary positions. Immediately I thought “This is all too good to be true.” Then I found something that really appealed to me (as if living in the UK didn’t already
appeal to me) and it was for a youth worker, doing retreat work in this place called “Castlerigg Manor”. That night I applied to be a Gap Year Volunteer (something I had never even heard of before because the term doesn’t exist in America) for the Youth Service. At this stage I still thought it was all too good to be true, and nothing would come of it. I thought I would be lucky if I got an email back, but at least I had actually applied for something.Two days later I got an email back saying that I would be considered, and after a long process and what seemed like years, I received an email saying that I had been accepted to join the team at Castlerigg Manor. I couldn’t have been more thrilled: this was everything and more I had ever hoped for. England had always been the country I had wanted to visit most in the world; never in a million years did I think I would be able to live there for a year, and better still,with other young Catholics. After 2 months of money and visa issues miraculously falling into place perfectly, I was on a plane to Manchester with all my (Californian) winter clothes for the year.
I have now been here for nine months and I still have moments when I can’t believe I’m here, living my dream. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I don’t think this was my doing at all. God totally brought me here. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the whole experience, first by being in this beautiful country, but also by all the people I’ve met and the many friends I’ve made. I’ve been really surprised and humbled by the faith that the people of Lancaster Diocese have. In America it’s very rare that you hear about the Catholic Church in England. I always thought that the Church in England was very quiet and almost insignificant. That sounds ridiculous to me now as I have had the opportunity to meet so many Catholics on fire, and especially such a large number of young people. It has been something really beautiful to witness. It seems to me that the young Catholics in England have a stronger faith, and a more confident faith than the young Catholics that I know in America. The sense of community that the young Catholics have over here is something that I have never experienced before, almost like a special jewel that you don’t come across very often. I feel so blessed to have seen all this, and be involved in it, and I don’t think my desire to be a missionary means that I have to be in a place like South America or Africa. Rather God has called me to do His work here in Lancaster Diocese by working with young people every day and inviting them into this fruit-filled community that the young people of the Lancaster Diocese have created. This year has been a real blessing for me. I have grown so much in my faith and my independence. I thank God for this experience and wouldn’t want it any other way. I will remember this special year for the rest of my life and will take so much knowledge, joy, and confidence back home to California with me to try and build up something of what I have experienced here in
England for the young people in my home diocese.

Bridget, 23, Lancaster

Being a Catholic has always been something that is a part of me. I was brought up in a Catholic family – but in the past few years it has become something that is truly a part of my whole self. I was brought up going to Mass with my family at St. Thomas More in Lancaster, and it was a great part of my childhood. But as I grew up, as I’m sure a lot of others did, I began to grow distant from my faith. It was a pilgrimage to Lourdes at the age of 17 that ignited the spark for faith once more in my life. It was an incredible experience, and one that would start a huge change in my life. I went through the next few years with highs and lows of my faith journey. I found myself having moments of extreme highs, like being able to attend World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, to extreme lows, like some of my times at university, where I felt lower and lonelier than I ever had before. It was a trip to Rome that was to
change everything. Whilst there in 2009, I met members of the team at Castlerigg Manor. They told me about the work they did, and it sounded amazing. Before I knew it, I was there for a weekend having an interview. And from then I have spent the past 2 years working on the team there, which has been the most inspiring and uplifting 2 years of my life. There I have truly learnt what faith means to me – that it isn’t just something for a Sunday, or when you feel like it. It has an effect on every part of my life now, and I couldn’t be more thankful to God for never giving up on me, and for bringing me to somewhere where I can have such a true,
raw and loving experience of faith. So what next? I could have never have pictured myself doing youth work, or any kind of work for the Church. But from August 16th, I will be heading to Minnesota in the USA to work for an organisation called NET ministries. Their focus is on a ‘New Evangelisation’ – reaching young people in schools, parishes and youth clubs. I feel this next step is going to form my faith in an ever greater sense, spending day to day meeting young people and preaching the Gospel. I will spend 9 months travelling the USA, going from place to place, and living with different host families along the way. What could be a greater
adventure? And for me this is what faith has helped me to understand about life. That it is an adventure, that it is to be enjoyed, and that we must live each day for God and His mission for us. This is what will make us truly happy. As it says in John, let us “Live life to the full”.

Ruth, 21, Castlerigg

My name is Ruth, I’m 21. What I have experienced during my time at Castlerigg has changed my life. I have always been a Catholic. I am the youngest of six children and had a very happy upbringing in the faith.
When I was 16 I left home for the first time to go to college, where I studied Outdoor Education. It very quickly became apparent to me that I was going to have to make a conscious decision over whether I kept my faith or not. It was no longer something that I
practised just because my parents expected me to. At the time I honestly thought that at the age of 16 I had no choice but to lapse. To me, faith was something for children and grown adults. Faith was incompatible with being a young person and lapsing was a sad but inevitable fact. I had no young Catholic role models to look up to and I genuinely thought that I had no choice but to let my faith dwindle away. No sooner than I had decided this, I knew I couldn’t do it. I loved my faith too much! So I resolutely made the choice to remain a Catholic – even though I thought I would fail. I would at least try. For many years afterwards, I was the only
Catholic that I came in contact with in my day to day life. Once I left college I began working as a watersports instructor teaching sailing, windsurfing and kayaking. I lived at the centres I worked at and was expected to work weekends. At my last centre I had to tell my boss at my interview that I would need the time off to get to Mass each weekend. She was extremely taken aback by this and it put her in a difficult situation but to her eternal credit she did her utmost to make sure I had a couple of hours off each Sunday so I could get to Mass. I worked at this centre for 3 years and in that time my faith increased dramatically. It was incredibly hard at times. I didn’t drive, so I would leave the centre at 7.45 on a Sunday morning to walk for forty minutes to the nearest Catholic Church for 8.30 Mass, returning just in time to have some lunch and jump in a powerboat to teach on the water. Having to fight for Mass and work hard to get there even when the walk seemed too long or it was raining really made me treasure the Eucharist. I understood more than ever how precious our faith was. It was a very lonely time however. For much of it, my community of faith was found on the internet. Online, the young Catholic world opened up in all its vibrancy and I knew I was not alone. I used articles, music and apologetics from several young Catholic websites in America and the UK to help sustain my day to day faith. The world I was living in at the time could not have been further from my faith. Whilst I loved those who I worked with, it was hard not to get
pulled into the differences in our lifestyles; the drinking culture which was the norm. Through all of this loneliness and often times, madness, I developed a longing and love for God that brought me to the point where I looked to leave my job – and what I had hoped to be a long career – to apply to do a gap year with the Lancaster Diocese Youth Service.
So, to cut a long story short, I arrived at Castlerigg Manor last August to begin my training. And what I have discovered in this time has been amazing. The young Catholic world is alive and kicking. It is small and ever so slightly underground but it’s there!
To have the support of other people my age in our faith has been amazing. The young people who come through the centre are able to see what I always wanted: a place where faith is an integral part of our daily lives, something to be rejoiced in and not judged, something that sustains us rather than brushed off as archaic and irrelevant. Please do not underestimate the challenges that young people have to face in this world when they turn against the grain of society and seek God. It is a struggle. Castlerigg Manor, for many, is the place that gave them their lives back and supported and strengthened them. It is the place where they found acceptance and love in an often loveless world. Finally and most importantly, it is the place where they found Jesus and His love for them. I too have experienced that this year and I know it will sustain me wherever I go next in life.