Let me introduce you To Stephen Woods, a newly qualified physics teacher from Bournemouth, who is going to World Youth Day in Madrid 2011. He is heading to the event with Portsmouth Diocese as one of the group leaders. In this interview I have set out to know about this enigmatic figure who always walks around our preparation meetings with a cup of tea in his hand and a smile on his face.
Here is his story.
Paula: What’s your name?
Stephen: Stephen Woods
P: How old are you?
S: 21 years old
P: you are not 21!
S: I am 21 years, I am going to be 22 in August, as in August the 11th… so we will be away in Madrid then.
P: What did you study at university?
S: I did physics at University and I didn’t have a specialism but my my favourite bit of physics is experimental physics.
P: And where did you go to University?
S: I was in York in the north of England and now I am living down in Bournemouth because I wanted to live somewhere a bit different.
P: Where are you from?
S: I am from Huddersfield which is in West Yorkshire so I didn’t go very far to North Yorkshire when I was in York. So I left all my life in September there, when I moved down to Bournemouth.
P: How have you ended up going to World Youth Day?
S: Well, when I moved to Bournemouth I wanted to get to know the people that are in my Diocese and get to know the other Catholics in my area so I knew that I wanted to go to World Youth Day and so I got in touch with Dave Hill and said: ‘Dave, can I come to your pilgrimage and get to know the other Catholics? he said ‘yeah’ and then he said ‘do you want to be one of our leaders?’ and I said: ‘yes that’ll be OK, I can do that’. So now I am part of the Portmouth Diocese group.
P: Wonderful! and when you talk about Diocese, it sounds like you know about Catholicism, have you been always a Catholic?
S: Oh No, you see I only became a Catholic 2 and a little bit years ago in the Easter Vigil of 2008.
P: What where you before?
S: Well, I became a Christian when I was 15 but I didn’t feel like I was attached to any denomination becuase I didn’t get to go to church very much as none of my family went to church so it was difficult for me to go.
P: So can we say that you were coming from an atheist family?
S: Yeah, well, none of my family are opposed to me becoming Catholic. I see that they, you know, are open to the spirituality but they are not Christians or really religious in any way so I am a bit different to them now.
P: How many people are there in your family?
S: Well, I got one younger brother he is now 15 years old, but both of my parents are now remarried and my mum has had a new baby boy, so now he is my half brother and my dad’s got married and his new wife has two children from her previous marriage and so now I have 2 half brothers and a sister as well.
P: So what did it make you become a Christian in the first place?
S: Oh yeah, well I was going to a youth group from when I was 13 years old to get to know some people, that was with the Methodist church. It was really good for me to spend time with these really friendly people at the youth group, and then I started to hear some of the messages, the Christian morals that they were teaching and I was very attracted by that, but it did take me 3 years to come to terms with some of the things that I was being asked to believe by the church and by the Bible in order to be able to say that I wanted to be a Christian, because I have always been very interested in science and I found these two difficult to piece together in my life and that little challenge meant that it took me 3 years before I was able to be a Christian.
P: So is it right to say that you were a methodist for 3 years, but then what happened?
S: Ok, well I never really thought to myself: ‘yeah maybe I was a Methodist even if I didn’t go to church with them but becuase I have their ideas about Christianity, yes maybe I was a methodist, for example, the way they practice communion, I thought maybe this is the normal way, it was only when I went to university and one of my friends invited me to Mass, that I found out about the Catholic way of practising the Eucharist. Then when I went to university I decided that I wanted to start having a proper church life, which I never had at home so I went to all the different churches so that I could to find what all the denominations were like becuase I wanted to be part of a church and I really liked the lively worship in some churches but I like the really contemplative and spiritual and oh! the very solemn worship that the Catholic churches practice was very spiritually appealing but at the end Catholic moral teaching and the cathecism of the Catholic church make me want to be a Catholic.
P: You mentioned the Easter Vigil? Where were you celebrating the Easter Vigil?
S: That was in my parish church. I got involved in a Catholic parish in York where I was studying and I went to their Catholic rite of iniciation through for a year and went along to church and then I was confirmed there at Easter and then I did altar serving for them and things like that until I eventually had to leave university.
P: Wonderful story, What did your family make of this?
S: Well, they haven’t really asked me about it.
P: How did you break the news?
S: Oh I can’t remember! ha ha
P: Mum, dad I am going to become a Catholic…
S: Yeah, I think so, and the great thing is…that about 2 years ago and since they separated, and my confirmation was the first time that they’ve been together in one place with me, since then really.
P: So they both came to your confirmation…
S: They both came and that was very special
P: Very moving – I can imagine
S: Oh, I was very moved by that yes, the family came back together again for me and kind of to be initiated and it was a really, really good occasion, very special.
P: Do you belong to any movement at the moment? lay movement? community or anything like that?
S: No, no I don’t. I am trying to get involved in parish life and at the moment well I play the guitar in the evening Sunday mass in our parish but I haven’t spent any sort of time with any of these movements…well I am very open to new ideas.
P: Well, I can introduce you to some if you like.
S: Well which ones?
P: Well, there are lots of different movements in the church which can help you develop your spiritual life and strengthen your life in addition to Sunday mass. Well, actually you can learn about them in Spain, there is going to be a fair in Parque del Retiro where 80 of them will be telling about their spirituality to young people. Shall we go together then?
S: Yes! it sounds good, it sounds like a plan.
P: What do you expect in WYD? What do you want to gain from it?
S: I expect WYD to be a lively and inspiring gathering of young Catholics, in which I will be able to take encouragement, ask questions, and offer my own experiences of the faith. I hope to gain the guidance of the Pope when he speaks to us. I also anticipate the spiritual nourishment which comes from time spent in prayer, enjoying the company of other believers, and giving time over to God in the sacraments and serving others.
After this interview with Stephen, I have decided to do a follow up with him during and after our visit to the vocations fair… so don’t miss out… part 2 is coming soon!