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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Challenges of heeding call of God
By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

So few men are becoming Roman Catholic priests that some parishes in the London area may have to close with others compelled to share priests, according to a church consultation document.

Father Roger Taylor
The day begins with morning Mass
Parishioners in the Westminster diocese are being asked to get more involved in running the church as priests face new challenges in adapting to the changing demands of their parishes.

So why does anyone choose to be a priest and what is he in for on a typical day if he does?

A crowd gathers for morning mass at St Monica's Church in the bustling heart of Palmers Green, in north London.

Numbers attending church are not the problem, according to Father Roger Taylor, who became parish priest there in September.

"The Catholic population in London is buoyant," he said, with his parish celebrating six Sunday masses to meet demand.

But finding people willing to dedicate their lives to the priesthood is another matter.

'Complementary' role

"It is hard to hear the voice of God calling you into the church when the voice of the world is loud and raucous," he said.

Father Roger Taylor
At difficult moments and joyful moments people invite you into their life

In the absence of new recruits, it is suggested the Catholic faith may open its doors to married and women priests.

Already married former Anglican priests, working in the Catholic faith have a "complementary ministry," said Father Roger.

As for married and women Catholic priests becoming accepted, he said: "It will be the decision of the Holy Spirit and if this is so we won't be able to resist it."

Sister Joyce Dionne, who works with him, would not object.

Now in her 70s, she embraces change having recently performed her first funeral - a duty only usually conducted by priests.

Lean times

Father Roger believes the wider parish community will take on more responsibilities during this "lean period" for vocations.

Father Roger Taylor
A priest has a place at the heart of the community, says Father Roger
He does not see this as threatening the priest's position as an authoritative voice.

Meanwhile he and Father Shaun Church have their work cut out keeping up with parish needs.

About 1,600 people attend Sunday Masses from Southgate, Winchmore Hill and Palmers Green.

After a morning service Father Roger has the first of three meetings to discuss parish business.

In between he catches up on paperwork for a wedding, starts to prepare Sunday's homily and does his food shopping.

Sound of silence

Finding time for meaningful prayer can be difficult.

I didn't set foot inside a church for 10 years and look at me now, I can't get out of the place

To foster his spiritual life, he seeks silence.

"Often people don't hear the promptings of the spirit because their lives are too busy."

"I am a huge believer in being alone - it's the desert experience.

"This can be painful but it is often when God does His best work.

"I think people are too frightened of what they will find in silence".

But to be a successful priest you must also like being around people and in return, he said, "it's a great life".

Demanding situations

"It's an amazing privilege. At difficult moments and joyful moments people invite you into their life.

"Often you cannot do anything other than tell them what you believe."

But even a priest finds situations difficult. He recalls how he struggled the first time he had to comfort a family who had suffered a cot death.

"I thought 'I don't know how to do this'. You are just thrown back on the basics of faith and human sympathy."

The 48-year-old trained as a barrister and worked in music, running opera and ballet companies, including stints as general manager for Ballet Rambert and assistant general manager of Opera North.

While some turn to faith in a crisis for him it was just the right thing to do.

He joined the closed order the Cistercians, left and worked in a retreat centre's lay community where a nun suggested he had what it took to be a priest.

After training for four years in Rome he was ordained five years ago.

He converted to Catholicism 21 years ago but has not always been so devout.

"I didn't set foot inside a church for 10 years and look at me now, I can't get out of the place."

He did not expect to become a parish priest so soon but is full of enthusiasm for the task.

'Sacrament machines'

For all his ideals, he realises people's lives do not fit neatly into church teachings.

Asked if he would give communion to a divorced person he replied: "I never ask" about people's circumstances.

"The purpose of moral law is not to exclude people but to bolster the idea of love," he said.

He said priests should not get bogged down by routines.

"Once priests start to think of themselves as sacrament machines they lose sense of the real business of what we do."

And while he admits he does not always know how he got "from A to B," in Mass at other times he is "gripped by the enormity of it and conscious of the presence of the Lord."


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