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john_feehan_01On 18 September the large theatre in Gonzaga College was over 90% full for the Anamcharadas seminar: Living Faith in the 21st century. Michael Paul Gallagher SJ presented ‘Where are we now? What hope for faith?’ Language does no justice to this brilliant PowerPoint session: Michael Paul used images and imagination in a search for media to convey the reality of God to a postmodern generation. The theme of John Feehan (pictured here) was ‘Creation as Revelation’ – exploring how our scientific understanding of the natural world has profound implications for Christian belief and practice. The seminar celebrated the 25th birthday of Anamcharadas, whose co-founder, Myles O’Reilly SJ, was the main organiser. Read more about Anamcharadas and Myles – dubbed by his friends God’s Universal Hustler. This may not do him justice. In the early 1980’s there was precious little spiritual companionship for Irish lay people. From his work in Tabor house with young adults in their late twenties and early thirties, Myles was struck by the spiritual gifts evident in so many of them and the absence of support for their spiritual development when they would leave Tabor. During his stay in the Jesuit Renewal Centre, Cincinnati, USA, in the summer of 1983, he came across a vibrant lay team training fellow lay adults in the art of spiritual companionship. Myles saw their potential for training an Irish group to do the same for Irish people, and knew that Sr Rosemary Alexander was thinking of setting up a spiritual training centre for lay adults in Greenacres, Kilmacud, Dublin. So he invited her to join him in inviting the American team to Ireland, with Ms Julie Murray as leader, and train an Irish team over the summers of 1984 and 1985 (one needs to acknowledge  the invaluable work of Fr Gerry Hair SJ in forming the American team).

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The graduates of these two summers were not content to just get a training in order to give a training, and to provide spiritual companioning for others. They also wanted ongoing training and support for themselves. So over the following three years they dreamed up  a vision statement (read it on the Anamcharadas website), committed themselves to an annual gathering, and formed little support groups to enable one another to grow in the contemplative stance. Over the past twenty-five years they have provided ten different trainings that now involve sixteen weekends spread over two years. They follow the Ignatian pattern of spiritual development during the two years.

As anyone who has done the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius knows, that is only the beginning  of the journey of listening to and responding  to  the Spirit which has led  many anam charas into new and enriching paths of spiritual development.  Myles says that mystics of other religions have shed light on aspects of Christ that he never saw before  from a Christianity dominated by a  Greco-Roman paradigm; and that things like the Enneagram and Neuro-Linguistic Programming  gave him self-knowledge and awareness that he did not find in his own tradition. His spirit of openness is replicated in Anamcharadas.  Last September at their annual gathering, Anamcharadas realized that it was their twenty-fifth anniversary, so they decided to celebrate it in some way. A group of members astonished Myles by presenting him with a book full of gratitude for what his presence and guidance had meant to them – the cover is pictured here. The title of God’s Universal Hustler does not fit easily a man who is seen as an empathic listener, a warm and upbeat presence, and extraordinarily inclusive in his openness to the spiritual. At their anniversary meeting, the members wondered what gift they could give that would be relevant for 2010. They felt that their faith was too much cast in the forms and language of yesterday, to which younger generations found hard to relate. What was needed was an update for the postmodernist culture of today; and an integration into their vision of faith of the discoveries of new physics and the new understanding of the cosmos. Who better to ask than Michael Paul Gallagher on the former and John Feehan on the latter? They were gratified to host 240 people in Gonzaga theatre for a splendid day. They feel it is not a laurel  on which to rest, but a spur to do more similar things in the future.