Young Catholic interns hoping to pursue a career in public life in England and Wales have been encouraged in their work by many experiences of the universal Church during a pilgrimage to Rome this week.
Six recent university graduates from this year’s Catholic Parliamentary and Public Affairs Internship scheme entitled “Faith in Politics” have been visiting Vatican offices and went to Mass and lunch at the Venerable English College as part of an annual trip of the project run by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Two of the interns, Joseph Gould and Anna Geatrell, spoke to Vatican News’s John Waters about the internship scheme, their insights into public life from a Catholic perspective, and about what they will take away from their visit to the Eternal City.
Parliament, communications, and social action
Joseph explained that the internship is 15 years old this year. He is one of three participants working with members of the UK parliament. Anna works with CSAN, the domestic social action agency of the Church in England and Wales, and another intern is working with CAFOD, the international Catholic aid agency.
Joseph has been working for his local Conservative member of parliament who is also a parliamentary private secretary for ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He said this had given him an opportunity to see the work his MP does on a constituency level, to research national policy areas, and also help in supporting her role as a member of the housing select committee.
Joseph said: “Our scheme has been called ‘faith in politics’ and that has very much been the case this year. Just telling people in parliament when they ask how I came to be in parliament and you explain the background, quite often I’ve had people then tell me that they are a Catholic or they’re religious themselves. I wouldn’t have had that conversation if I hadn’t have told them the nature of our scheme.”
Joseph added that Mass is celebrated every Wednesday in parliament, which attracts MPs from across the political spectrum.
The Catholic Church as an “expert” on older people
Speaking about her work, Anna explained that in meetings about domestic social action, other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) “really appreciate and value the fact that, and they are interested in, a unique perspective that a faith-based charity can bring to an issue.”
Anna added: “What I have found interesting is when a colleague told me that the Catholic Church in England and Wales can call itself a bit of an expert on older people, and Catholic NGOs can, particularly because the Catholic population is ageing faster than the general population. So I think those kinds of insights can be really useful to NGOs when you are looking at policy issues and they are definitely valued by other NGOs and people in public affairs.”
Encounter with seminarians
Giving his reflection on the group’s lunch at the English College, Rome’s seminary for students from England and Wales, Joseph said: “We do often here at home how there is a crisis in vocations and how the future of the Church is uncertain, certainly in England and Wales. But it was great to meet so many seminarians and to see the dedication that they have to their vocation and the optimism and hope that they have for future.”
Although admitting he was previously sceptical about comparing a vocation to the priesthood to the common description of politics as a ‘vocation’, Joseph said there are “many ways” the interns could relate the commitment of seminarians to their own lives.
He said: “If we can apply the values and the mentality that has led someone to want to train to be a priest, if we can all apply that in a secular environment then hopefully there will be a Christian voice in all aspects of our national life.”
Experiences in Rome
Commenting on her experiences of Rome, Anna said: “I just hope that in some way we’ll be able to take back to our offices but also to where we live, which is a Catholic chaplaincy, an experience of being part of an international church and coming to the centre of our religion, in some ways, and to be able to share that experience with them and some enthusiasm that we’ve had for it.”