I am writing this month from the Archdiocese of Westminster where I am on my pastoral placement – so it is not, in fact, a postcard from Valladolid, but from Hertfordshire!
Seminarians every year take time out from their studies, usually in order to work in parishes. However, instead of sending me to a parish, the college sent me to St Elizabeth's Centre, a specialist school for children with epilepsy in the village of Much Hadham.
Before arriving at St Elizabeth's, I was somewhat apprehensive about this placement which the Holy Mother Church, and therefore Christ, was asking me to undertake. It certainly isn't the average placement for a seminarian. However, on arrival I was challenged straight away.
The Gospel during Mass on my first day at the centre was John 1: 43–51, the account in which Nathaniel encounters Christ. Before meeting Jesus, Nathaniel was very cautious about whether Jesus was actually the prophet spoken of by Moses. His exact words were: "From Nazareth, can any good come from that place?"
This short line in John's account challenged me greatly, and that has been an overriding theme while I have been serving in St Elizabeth's, with the Lord constantly reminding me of my preconceived notions of what I was going to receive while here in the Hertfordshire countryside. Looking back now, I certainly see myself in Nathaniel's shoes.
However, much like when Nathaniel has his encounter with Jesus and recognises Him straight away, the same happened to me. Countless times over the past three weeks I have encountered Our Lord in both the students and the staff at St Elizabeth's – and I have been challenged by them, not in a confrontational way, but by the example of how they lead their lives, full of joy and full of hope.
Undoubtedly, these children have begun life on 'the back foot', so to speak, with a life-affecting disability such as epilepsy. Some of them have severe epilepsy and suffer many seizures daily; for others it is more sporadic and the seizures few.
Further to this, some children are much more able than others. Indeed, at first glance, you would assume they were just like any other child and could function well in mainstream education, but I soon learned there was a clear link between paediatric epilepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This stint at St Elizabeth's has been a great joy for me and taught me so much, and I will be sad to leave behind all the relationships I have established. They will always have a place in my prayers.