Faith and Life
Royal Air Force
RAF Roman Catholic Activities
The Principal Catholic Chaplain of the RAF is assisted by a group of people (serving, veterans and dependents) to deliver activities for the Catholic faithful in the RAF. Activities range from the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, assisting HCPT with children of RAF dependents going to Lourdes and the organisation of retreats at Benedictine Monasteries.
The retreats have been running successfully for over ten years and recently they have centred on the Benedictine monasteries of Worth, Belmont and Ampleforth. In 2022 a new venue will be introduced: Douai Abbey. The retreats are organised by a small team of Wg Cdr (Rtd) Jem Wynne and Sergeant Caroline Routledge. Each retreat offers approximately 15 places, open to serving Regular and Reserve personnel from the Armed Forces. MOD Civil Servants and dependents can also apply. The retreats have been increasing in popularity. This indicates a strong and building recognition of the importance of this type of activity in the maintenance of robust mental health and spiritual resilience.
Squadron Leader Mel Johnston attended the retreat at Ampleforth Abbey in 2021 and his reflection on the retreat can be found HERE.
Each year there are normally at least two opportunities to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes in the south of France as part of a Service community: with the HCPT (Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust) children’s pilgrimage at Easter; and with the IMP (International Military Pilgrimage) in May, either supporting a veterans HCPT group for a week long pilgrimage, or as part of the IMP Naval Contingent for a shorter 4-day pilgrimage.
Very occasionally additional pilgrimages may be organised to other sites such as Rome, Fatima, the Holy Land, or Walsingham.
HCPT – Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust
HCPT is a UK-based Catholic charity offering pilgrimage holidays to the shrine of Lourdes in South West France for disabled and disadvantaged people from around the UK and further afield.
Within the wider context of this national organisation, groups from each of the Armed Forces exist, which focus on children and veterans with special needs from our Armed Forces communities. Groups are made up of serving helpers, supported by some retired and dependant personnel, as well as specialist service health care professionals and normally a Service Chaplain. The pilgrimage week has a family atmosphere with a 1-to-1 participant / helper ratio and is based on a spine of faith activities with a great number of opportunities for fun.
The children’s pilgrimage takes place at Easter and within the Armed Forces region, the Royal Navy runs two groups:
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Royal Air Force
The annual Mass for the Royal Air Force will take place at 1100 on Sunday 3 April at the military Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Queen's Road, Aldershot. All are welcome to join our RAF Chaplains and Bishop Mason at the Mass. The date of the Mass has been chosen to be close to the formation date of the RAF. We will remember all those who have served and continue to serve in the RAF especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and those currently serving on ops.
Refreshments will follow Mass. Do try and attend in person. Number 1 uniform, with medals, is encouraged for those serving. If you can't attend the Mass in person it will be live streamed via Zoom at this link.
It would be lovely to see as many of the RAF family at the Mass as possible.
Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG)
The RAF PAG has been active since it was first created, under the direction of the then Bishop to the Forces, Bishop Tom Burns, in 2006. Monsignor John Daley was the RAF Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain (RAF PRCC) at that time, and he gathered together a group of interested and committed lay Catholics serving in the RAF to provide support to him as RAF PRRC, his Chaplains, and to the wider RAF RC Community. This was at a time when it was recognised that the number of Catholic Chaplains within the RAF was low and likely to get lower. The work and support of the PAG, then, is even more important now than it was in 2006. The RAF PAG meets quarterly. It is made up of individuals from across the RAF’s rank structure and geographical locations. The PAG has always sought to include junior ranks within its membership, providing an ideal opportunity for personal and professional development. As well as the Chair and the RAF PRRC, other members take a lead for the RAF’s involvement in the International Military Pilgrimage, with the HCPT pilgrimage, and with the annual solemn Mass of Remembrance at Westminster Cathedral. The PAG also has dependants, veterans, and ecumenical representation as well as a communications lead. The PAG is also able to mobilise to support one-off events such as the Papal Visit to the UK in 2010, the installation of the Bishop to the Forces,World Youth Day, and the RAF 100 Mass in 2018. We are providing support to the organisation of the Apostolat Militaire International (AMI) Conference taking place in London in 2021.
The RAF PAG pictured with Bishop Paul and the RAF PRCC at Douai Abbey in Feb 22 for a meeting and 24-hour period of reflection and prayer.
The PAG primarily seeks to serve and support the RAF RC community, be they serving or retired members of the regular or reserve force, RAF dependants, and members of our sister Services or civilians working at RAF establishments. We can use our collective experience and service knowledge to support and provide guidance to our PRRC and the other RC Chaplains. We aim to communicate to the RAF RC community on faith matters, providing witness, a presence and encouragement. Our methods of communication continue to move with the times; although we still produce a regular newsletter, we now have a Facebook presence (RAF RC Group) and a site on Defence Connect. We will soon have access to a smartphone app. The constitution of the RAF PAG calls for the PAG to support and encourage vocations to the RAF Chaplaincy. So far, we have had 2 members of the PAG become permanent Deacons, including Rev (Sqn Ldr) Neil Galloway who, as a SNCO communications specialist, was a founder member of the PAG and has now returned to the PAG as a serving Chaplain. The PAG can be justly proud of its initiative in organising the annual series of RAF Retreats. These continue to go from strength to strength and are firmly established within the RAF calendar to provide a space for respite and reflection and to assist with an understanding of the moral component of conflict. Countless numbers of RAF personnel have participated in the Retreats over the years. In the past we have visited Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire but more recently have enjoyed the unique Benedictine spirituality provided by the communities at Belmont Abbey, Herefordshire and at Worth Abbey in West Sussex. The interest in participating in one of our Retreats continues to grow. The RAF PAG meets quarterly. The February meeting is held at Douai Abbey in Berkshire when the business of the meeting is combined with an overnight stay and a period of prayer and reflection. We were honoured and privileged that Bishop Paul was able to join us at Douai in 2020 as we discussed our full programme for 2020 and beyond. Fr Oliver, a monk of Douai, led us in a period of reflection with a theme of,‘Finding space for God among the noise and busyness of life’. All found much of value as Fr Oliver reminded us of the opening words of the rule of St Benedict: Listen, my son, to the instructions of your Master, turn the ear of your heart to the advice of a loving father. The aim of the PAG remains constant with service of God and of others at its core. Please pray for our Chaplains, for more vocations to military Chaplaincy, and for the work of the RAF PAG.