Every year, for the past quarter of a century, a Christian charity with which I am involved has run a nationwide Schools Bible Project. Its aim is to give schoolchildren an opportunity to study the Gospels and encounter Christ. They are invited to reflect on various incidents in the Gospels – chapter and verse given, plus some background info – and then choose one and write it up as if they had actually been present. It’s essentially an Ignatian exercise.
We get many really good essays (as well as some utterly hopeless ones). This year, pleasingly, a number of Catholic schools produced prizewinners. No, I’m not telling you who they are – the schools have to hear first. The main winners come to London and get their prizes from the splendid Baroness Cox at the House of Lords, are shown round Parliament, have tea, etc. You will often be told that Christianity is banned from Britain’s schools. It isn’t. It’s part of the RE curriculum.
I spent a stimulating if exhausting day with a group of young American Catholics in London. We began at Tyburn with Mass at 7.30am. It was in the lower chapel at that small altar beneath the powerful reconstruction of Tyburn Tree. Gulp.
A delightful Sister then talked us through some of the martyrs’ stories. It was inspiring but of course also grim. Did you know that the expression “pulling someone’s leg” seems to have originated from the mercy of people tugging on a poor prisoner’s legs as he was hanged, thus making the rope do its work quickly and shortening his agony?
As we left, we crossed that traffic island at Marble Arch where the site of the actual Tyburn Tree is marked by a plaque, and I mentioned the tradition of kneeling to kiss the spot. All stopped to do so.
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