I fell in love in Victoria Station when I was a child visiting London. I watched the carnival of life, people from every corner of the earth and Londoners from all social classes and backgrounds rush or wait for their trains. No one was treated the less for being different – including me – and this was a new experience for me. At home in Ireland my peers punished me for not fitting in.
But I felt accepted in London, which afforded me a psychological solace that made me fall in love with the city. Whether I was eating lunch with a homeless lady in a café that looked out onto Victoria Station or watching the well-heeled carry shopping bags from luxury stores, I felt welcome in the midst of Londoners.
Two decades on, my beloved Victoria Station still has fog billowing like dry ice around it, but a cloud hangs over the heads of commuters. As Islamic terrorist attacks have become standard horror viewing on our TV screens at night, people have become more wary of travelling on public transport and the railways.
Before Christmas I was travelling a lot by train and I met my fair share of fellow Londoners while waiting for trains who were fearful that their train being delayed or cancelled was because of a suspected terrorist attack. As one lady put it, “call me paranoid, but you can’t be absolutely, one hundred per cent certain that some sort of terrorist attack won’t happen”.
For us Catholics, what’s the best we can do? We can’t very well stop using the tube or the railway. I think the go-to saint is St Michael. Our winged Archangel can protect us against potential terrorists who are under the influence of a most dreadful evil. Praying the St Michael prayer in the morning before heading off to work is a good habit to form. Ladies may even be able to carry a small statue of St Michael in their handbags (as I have done on occasion). Gents could carry a picture of St Michael in their breast-pocket.
I carry a photo of Fr Hugh Simon-Thwaites in my wallet, it cheers me up to remember his good works and his indefatigable fishing for converts, (he would say to non-Catholics, “you’d like to become Catholic, wouldn’t you?”). If more of us emulated him and had his hunger for saving souls there would be more committed Catholics who would pray for an end to Islamic militancy.
Wearing or carrying a St Benedict’s medal is truly the ticket – the medal thwarts diabolical influences and gives us protection from people who are seduced by evil spirits.
Some people may experience bad dreams, fearful restlessness or having sleepless nights before a long journey. The go-to saint here is St Dymphna – who is often only called upon for people with mental illness or depression – as a result people are slow to say they pray to her for fear the person listening will think they are having a breakdown! But several of my friends report that she is good for people who are experiencing sudden anxiety.
When I’ve gone for a drink in Wetherspoons and met fellow Londoners who are nervy before travelling, I’ve had some success encouraging them to visit and pray at Westminster Cathedral. In less tetchy times you’d be laughed at for suggesting someone light a candle so that they have a safe journey, but now it seems that people are more open to praying for the prevention of terrorism.
My next point may seem macabre, even morbid in a paranoid way. When we concentrate on the warning in the Gospels that we will not know the hour or the day that the Lord will call us home, it does concentrate the mind on always being ready. So, before a long journey, we can make an appointment for confession and do a thorough job of cleaning the soul of sin and making room for it to be filled with sanctifying grace.