On Sunday 4th March 2018, Shalom World TV aired a segment entitled “Heart Talk”. The host questions a bishop in a ‘heart to heart’ interview about their background, their faith journey, their hopes and their fears in a very open and honest interview. The subject of this particular broadcast was our own Archbishop George Stack.
During the interview, the Archbishop talked briefly about leaving Ireland as a child in the midst of the large emigration of the 1950’s aged just 6 years old. The Stack family home was a home where “… faith (Catholic Faith) was more a way of life”. In what was a very open interview the Archbishop admitted that during his teenage years other influences had come into his life “like all teens”. It was his education with the De La Salle brothers in London that very much kept faith at the forefront in those formative years.
The Archbishop who nearly became a lawyer
In speaking of his call to priesthood, the Archbishop related how priesthood was often in his thoughts. However, in jest, he admitted at age 15/16:
“I considered becoming a lawyer – I enjoy analysis and legality, and all those things.”
He mused that if things had been different he may be a partner in a law firm now with his best friend from school who has gone on to become a very successful and well-known lawyer.
When prompted if a particular priest, bishop or pope had influenced his decision to become a priest, the Archbishop admitted “I like to think it started at home. Home was a place where I breathed the Catholic life”. Prayer and devotion were particularly strong in his family and have obviously had a profound impact on the now Archbishop George Stack.
Seminary and the ‘fresh air’ of the Second Vatican Council
When the young George Stack entered seminary in 1966, it was shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.
“It was a time of great excitement within the Church …. And we literally studied the Council Documents as they were hot off the press and couldn’t be found in any books yet” the Archbishop recalled.
The example of Pope John XXIII made a mark on the Church at the time, and on the young George Stack. He describes the Saint as a man of humility, joviality, friendless and insight “much like Pope Francis is for the Church today”.
When asked if John XXIIII is his favourite Pope, Archbishop George responded “No. For me that is Pope Paul VI …. he was a courageous man and full of faith. And of course, he was the first Pope to really travel as he began to build bridges between East and West” (referring to the dialogue the Blessed Pope, who is soon to be canonised, began between the divided Church).
A life changing call – Bishop then Archbishop
Following a significant period of a very happy priesthood, whilst he was Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, Monsignor George Stack was summoned to the Apostolic Nuncio on Palm Sunday 2001. “It was after the procession” he recalled “I arrived at the nunciature to be told that Pope John Paul II had called me to become Auxiliary Bishop in Westminster”. The Archbishop then remarked how the Papal Nuncio pressed him for an on-the-spot answer and he simply responded “Can I pray about it?” to which the answer was “No”. Then, he said:
“you see your whole life changing before you”.
It was 10 years later that Bishop George Stack received the call to return to the Apostolic Nunciature to have a very similar experience, this time to be told that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed him to Cardiff. “It was totally unexpected” he said, but with fondness in his voice added “It has been a marvellous time for me” and “the Welsh people are very welcoming”.
His great hope for Cardiff
During the course of the interview the Archbishop spoke of his great aspiration for Evangelisation within the diocese. He recalled the highly successful ‘Proclaim ‘17’ conference held at St. David’s College, Cardiff where approximately 130 delegates from across the diocese had gathered to look at the future of Evangelisation within the diocese.
As part of the future of Evangelisation the Archbishop spoke of the Cornerstone project. He gave the history in buying the former Ebenezer Chapel and the project that was involved in bringing the Cornerstone to birth. He recounted that whilst the Cornerstone is used for social events etc. it is also a centre for Evangelisation within Cardiff itself. Since opening, Cornerstone has been host to a wide variety of public talks on matters of faith. Such talks have included topics like how we can dialogue with Islam; Faith in the Future; and what the Archbishop has described as being ‘the most moving talk’ by Margaret Partington on forgiveness.
He told the viewers that Margaret Partington is the sister of one of the victims of serial killers Fred & Rose West. He said “her talk was one of forgiveness, and the journey of what it means to try to forgive … She approached the talk from the perspective of ‘Would I wish to forgive?’. It was very powerful”. He informed the viewers that such talks attracted audiences of around 150 people each from all kinds of backgrounds. “It has been truly astounding” he said. For the Archbishop, the Cornerstone has literally followed the words of Pope Benedict XVI. We, as the Church of Cardiff, have gone to ‘The Courtyard of the Gentiles’ placing Cornerstone in the heart of Cardiff, around the shops and the clubs, and by having the mix of social venue and place of encounter. A genuine encounter has been taking place between people of faith and people of no faith under one roof; and people have been engaging, which gives him great hope for the future.
As well as the encounter and aspirations for Evangelisation the Archbishop also referred to the ‘Green Shoots’ of Vocations within the diocese. Talking generally of our seminarians he talked of their diverse background having come from the secular world of work towards ministry within the Church. “They bring with them many gifts and talents to enrich the Church” and he expressed his hope that it is “their example as they work in our schools and our parishes that will go on to encourage others”.
Young People – a great inspiration in his ministry
When asked who his favourite saint was, he responded “John Bosco”. The Archbishop has a great regard for Young People and St. John Bosco was highly committed to the life of young people in Turin. He said his regard for young people stems from his early priestly life working within school chaplaincy. The enthusiasm of young people inspires him, something that is practically evident for us within the diocese who know of the amount of time he spends in our schools and his great concern for education. It is also concretely seen with his engagement of young people within our parishes.
The Archbishop took the opportunity to speak about the huge investment the diocese has made in the Catholic Chaplaincy at Cardiff University with the creation of Newman Hall. Newman Hall has become home to numerous Catholic students associated with the university. He remarked on the immense prayer and devotional life reflected in the life of the Chaplaincy as co-ordinated by the small group of Oratorians within Cardiff. The Archbishop used the example the great Evangelisation initiative they run each year called ‘Nightfever’ as a witness to Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. During the event, students associated with the chaplaincy stand on the street and invite people to take a moment to pop into the chapel, light a candle and perhaps say a prayer. The initiative has been hugely successful over the years and is talked of with admiration during the interview.
How does an Archbishop relax?
Whilst the ministry of a Bishop includes many high points, the interviewer also noted that there are obviously ‘crosses to bear’ with it. So how does Archbishop George Stack relax? With a smile on his face, the Archbishop responded “Well … firstly I have my garden and the vegetables” referring to his ‘green fingers’ and love for growing his own food. When he is at home in Archbishops’ House, he sets time aside each day to spend in his garden and tend to his plants, and food. But he also likes to spend time away from the garden.
The Archbishop took the opportunity to express to the viewers the wonderful city that Cardiff is and all it has to offer to keep him entertained, from the Millennium Centre with its operas and plays to the Millennium (now Principality) Stadium and the chance to cheer Wales (and Ireland) on in the rugby, the Archbishop makes the most of the facilities Cardiff has to offer to relax and destress.
A message to the world
The interview was broadcast through the Shalom World TV network and website, which means it has been accessible to the world. So when asked ‘What message would you like to give the viewers?’ our Archbishop said this:
“We live in a world of instant communication and the amount of information that comes our way can be overwhelming. The questions of what’s important in life, what is life-giving etc. can often be missed. Programmes such as this allow us to say ‘here are the values we believe and the truths we hold’. So my message is simple, and it sometimes comes up at Mass:
“Judge wisely the things of earth and measure them against the values of heaven””.
The full interview is available online through the Shalom World Tv website https://www.shalomworldtv.org/hearttalk