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Christian leadership and Saint John Paul II

10th November 2022

Christian Leadership & St John Paul II

St John Paul II on his 1979 visit to Poland
Each era has particular challenges of its own to face. How can Saint John Paul II's papacy be a model for Catholic leadership today?

The journey of a young Karol Józef Wojtyła to the Priesthood was not an easy one. Realising his vocation, he was forced to study in an underground seminary due the Nazi occupation of Poland. But the end of World War II would not bring peace for the Church. For the next forty years, Poland was ruled by a Marxist regime that sought to eliminate the influence of the faith in society. As the state sought to assert its control over all aspects of life, the Church became increasingly constrained.

Yet some clergy, such as the future St John Paul II, spoke out. As Archbishop of Krakow, he called on the government to respect religious and political liberties. Soon after his election as Pope, he made a nine-day pilgrimage to Poland.  The tour included trips to the sites of a number of Slavic Saints, reminding those behind the Iron Curtin of their Christian heritage. Criticism of the regime could prove costly however. The Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko was beaten to death on account of his political activity. Despite this, the Catholic Church in Poland persisted in its stand against communism, thus contributing to its collapse in 1989.

St John Paul II also devoted significant attention to changes in Western perceptions of human sexuality. He saw in these another profound challenge to human society, albeit of a different sort from a Marxist ideology. His criticism of the West’s pursuit of unfettered freedoms was coupled with his conviction that the Christian vision of marriage and family life were crucial to a healthy society. In a series of catecheses that became known as The Theology of the Body, the Polish pope elaborated an integral view of the human person. Not only did he carefully make clear the relationship between the Fall and our present human condition,  but he drew out the full beauty of two millennia of theological reflection around the nature of the human person and their pursuit of happiness. Within this, a virtue-based ethics remains key to a personal and societal betterment.

Unlike the struggle against communism, the issues related to the nature, dignity and identity of the human person remain heavily contested in today’s Western society. To say the least, the Church’s teaching is profoundly countercultural. But this is no reason to give up. On the contrary, it should drive believers to refound and reshape a society that promotes a true, Christian freedom.

St John Paul II recognised that communism stifled religious freedom and compromised human dignity. With many Catholics in the West struggling to reconcile Christian teaching with secular ideologies, he remains a figure many look to for inspiration. 

Despite the risks, St John Paul II and many other Catholics sought to promote these eternal truths. Throughout his life, he reminded those on both sides of the Iron Curtain of their Christian heritage. And on both sides, not all of his teaching was universally accepted. However, the conviction shown by Pope John Paul II, and many lay Catholics with him, is an important first step. 

This call is not just for a select few, but rather for the whole Church. In Christifideles laici, St John Paul II argued that, “it is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of Gospel renewal”. We might not all have the same position in public life, but we can learn how to use our vocation that furthers the Christian call to holiness. 

A statue of St John Paul II in the Polish city of Czestochowa

The Christian Heritage Centre aims to form Christians so they can follow this call. Our Christian Leadership Formation programme prepares young people to bring their faith into positions of leadership. The programme equips students with the skills to shape a Christian society amidst the challenges and opportunities of today. Through our work, we aim to encourage them to follow in the steps of St John Paul II as fearless defenders of moral truths.

St John Paul II, pray for us!

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A successful end to the first CLF programme

25th April 2022

A successful end to the CLF programme

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Our first cohort receive their certificates in Westminster Hall from Ruth Kelly, having successfully completed the programme.

This time last year, the 14 students above were sending in application forms and canvassing references for a programme that was newly ‘on the market’, and for which there was little to go on other than its website.

The feedback that they have provided seems to firmly vindicate their decision to apply, since the one, recurring criticism they have consistently made of the programme was that the modules were too short! More time was needed to absorb and discuss the material – as well as to socialise!

The final module fittingly took place around the Palm Sunday weekend, and was kindly hosted by Westminster Diocese’s youth retreat centre in Pinner, north-west London (as was the second module). With the theme of this module being “Applied Political Leadership”, it was most appropriate to begin with a period of retreat over Palm Sunday itself, meditating on Christ as our only, true ‘leader’ and as the One to whom all Christians are called to lead others.

The retreat was the first time that most attendees had entered into any protracted period of silence (even if only 12 hours or thereabouts), but everyone found the fruits of the meditations, prayer and liturgy to be all the greater for it.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
With Fr Dancho Azagra, in the grounds of Westminster Diocese's retreat centre in Pinner
Christian Leadership Formation programme
ADF's UK director, Ryan Christopher, gives a workshop on changing policy and culture

The sunny weather made for a beautiful experience of the centre’s outdoor Stations of the Cross, as well as the first part of the Palm Sunday liturgy, bringing to life the lovely and extensive gardens. Our particular thanks are due to Fr Dancho Azagra for his careful preparation of the retreat period.

Following some downtime on the Sunday evening, Monday saw a return to the all-too-familiar and intense pattern of prayer and study. We were delighted to have Prof. Philip Booth, Director of Catholic Mission at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, offer both some introductory input into Catholic Social Teaching as well as to pick up on the contemporary theme of challenges to the environment. His sessions, which framed this issue within the holistic and Christian perspective of the ‘human ecology’, and which tackled the question of corporate versus individual responsibilities, were greatly appreciated.

Keeping the theme of the common good firmly in sight, Dr John Snape, Associate Professor of Law at Warwick University, opened up that topic which, together with death, is the only certainty in life (cf. Benjamin Franklin): taxes. He masterfully introduced the students to both the philosophic and rationale behind taxation as well as the criteria that have been expounded over the centuries to measure the equity of the related policies.

The classroom input was rounded off by ADF UK’s Ryan Christopher, whose workshops challenged the students to actively consider the relationship between policy and culture, and offered some important principles for putting into practice their own moral and cultural leadership.

To conclude both the module and the whole programme, Tuesday morning saw the group head towards the City centre. The first stop was St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, where the group were welcomed for Mass by the Dean, Fr Francis Murphy. Armed with Pret-a-Manger sandwiches, Parliament Square was our next stop (for a picnic rather than a protest!), and from there we reported to Westminster Palace for our tour of the Houses of Commons and Lords. Having seen both chambers, we returned to Westminster Hall, the site of St Thomas More’s trial, to meet Ruth Kelly, a former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister. Conscious of the programme being under the patronage of More, Ruth spoke feelingly, yet with great encouragement, about her own difficulties in serving the government as a committed Christian and Catholic. The students had time to question her about her experiences and to seek her advice, before Ruth presented them with certificates attesting to the completion of the programme.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Students picnic in Westminster Square before a tour of Parliament

The farewells that followed outside were certainly not the last as the group have expressed enthusiastic support for an annual conference and reunion, as well as a more regular online forum with talks and discussion.

Once again, our gratitude goes to those who have supported the programme with their time and input or financially. The places on the course have in large part been funded by generous donors, thus enabling the participation of many of the students.

The 2022 programme is currently open for application. More information and application forms are available at

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Not protesting, but picnicking
Christian Leadership Formation programme
In Westminster Hall at the start of the tour of Parliament
Christian Leadership Formation programme
Ready to say goodbye
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Christian Leadership Formation programme takes off

10th August 2021

Christian Leadership Formation programme takes off

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Lord Alton's keynote speech both inspired and challenged the next generation of leaders in society

Just over a week ago, our team of  “formators” for the Christian Leadership Formation programme said goodbye to fourteen rather tired, but enthusiastic, 17-year-olds. There was a good deal of sadness on both sides. A very intense five days of prayer, study, discussion and activity had seen the group of students rapidly and naturally coalesce as a group, and respond to the input of their tutors with willingness and openness.

The programme aims to help shape and create a society founded on Christian values by offering potential future leaders a solid intellectual and spiritual formation in the Christian philosophical and theological tradition. A recovery of the rationality of the Christian faith, and particularly of the many concepts that have been elaborated within Christianity over the last two millenia and have shaped our Western democracies, is therefore at the heart of this venture.

A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes over the last year to launch the programme this year amidst the challenges of Covid and the associated email-overload in schools! Nonetheless, launch it we did last January, and the result was a goup of enthusiastic, but slightly uncertain, Lower Sixth formers arriving at Theodore House on Monday 26th July.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Students congregate at Theodore House at the start of the course
Christian Leadership Formation programme
Students prepare their responses to the group tasks

By the end of the week, the students’ comments testified to the challenges the course had presented them with in re-conceiving an essential relationship between their faith and their thinking, and the successes achieved. “Absolutely brilliant course”, “broadened my understanding vastly”, “really really really good: probably the best thing I have done all year”, were a few of the comments in the feedback forms.

From the team’s perspective, it was wonderful to see the students open up both heart and mind and to see a real impact in their thinking and their disposition to Christ. Coming as they did from varied backgrounds and with different experiences in their faith, it was difficult for us not to see some positive fruit in every one of the students by the end of the week.


Fr Dancho Azagra lead the students through a firm and full framework of liturgy and prayer. He ably challenged and encouraged the students in their spiritual lives, opening up to them and explaining elements of the Mass and the prayers of the Church which formed the backbone of the week.

The students were challenged intellectually by the knowledgeable and clear-thinking Dr Andrew Beards,  who delivered a set of lectures around the three themes of human dignity, human rights and human law. The group discussion that preceded and followed each set of lectures presented an invaluable opportunity for the students to dig into their current knowledge of the issue, identify the crucial questions therein, and then apply these to concrete scenarios. In many instances, our team witnessed a gradual transformation or shift in perspective, as the students were led through a philosophically-consistent and theologically-enlightened elaboration of these matters.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Furious scribbling as Dr Andrew Beards puts the students through their paces
Christian Leadership Formation programme
"Students put their communication and drawing skills to the test in a "blind draw" team-building challenge

The discussion and learning found an outlet in the media training sessions ably provided by Georgia Clarke of Catholic Voices, which saw the students develop their confidence and find the opportunity to present their thinking that went into the course. The week culminated in mock interviews with experienced journalists from national broadcasters, who declared the interviews to have been “terrifyingly good”.

The team was rounded out by Weightmans LLP trainee-solicitor, Ola Smuklerz, who generously offered her professionalism and commitment to the charity. Her pastoral role quickly embraced every element of the course and provided a great support to the students  both individually and in their groups.

At the end of the week, it was clear to all of us that what we have provided is unique and hugely important, not simply for those students who might be orientated to more explicit, leadership roles in society, but to any student that wishes to comprehend their Christian faith properly in the first place and to apply this to the society in which they live.


For more information about the programme or to register interest for next year’s intake, please visit

The Trustees and Director would like to extend their thanks to those organisations and individuals that have made participation in the programme possible for the first cohort through their financial support. If you would like to consider supporting the programme, please contact

Christian Leadership Formation programme
The group sets off for a pub dinner in typical Lancashire weather