“IN SOME ways Coatbridge is a bit like Africa,” Fr Vincent Lockhart, Missio Scotland’s National Director said. Having spent 15 years in the Catholic Mission in Fontem, Cameroon before returning home and eventually becoming the parish priest of St Monica’s in Coatbridge, he is in a unique position in not only being able to proclaim this, but also to explain it!
“I went to Strathaven and I loved it because it was a small parish and you got to know people. What I would do was on a Saturday evening I’d get a Chinese carry out and I’d just knock on someone’s door in the parish and say I’d brought my dinner. I’d go in and sit with them. That was a very typical African thing to call on people and say what are you having for dinner tonight. I think people were taken aback a bit by that but I think they liked that.
“Then I was in Coatbridge, which was quite like Africa because Coatbridge is brilliant. The people are absolutely brilliant. They have a great sense of family. Someone once asked me about Coatbridge people and the kind of interests that they have. I think for many Coatbridge people, at least the ones in Kirkwood, the first thing they did when they had free time was to go and see their family. So there’s a great sense that relationships are important. In that sense it’s quite similar to Africa.”
Community and togetherness That sense of family, of community, of togetherness have been pivotal to Fr Vincent’s priestly life, because they have acted as sources of strength whether he has been in Cameroon or in his various parishes in Motherwell Diocese. The phrase, he says that ‘marks his heart and soul,’ and informs everything he does is ‘May they all be as one’ (John 17:21), highlighting the importance that he places on ‘building bridges, not walls.’
“I see my faith as something I don’t live on my own,” he said. “A communitarian faith is what I have. Every Wednesday night I meet with half a dozen other guys—four are consecrated, live in communities and are lay people, two of the other guys are married. We do a meditation together, we reflect together and we talk about how we’re trying to live our lives and live our faith. I get a lot of strength from that.
“I also draw strength from prayer. I’ve been at the prayer game quite a long time and if someone asks me what my prayer life is like, I don’t use a lot of words in prayer anymore. It’s like the old married couple, married for 50 years and they sit there, content to be together, they don’t need to say a lot. I can, at any moment, just be with God. I think the Eucharist and Mass is equally a massive part of my life of ministry.”
Some 16 years spent in Cameroon gave Fr Vincent a great insight into the universality of the Church and an insight into how those in the African continent lived their faith. He, himself enjoyed celebrating Masses that were, as he put it, ‘raucous and full of life.’ He also loved the fact that you could have a real impact upon people’s lives in both fundamental and spiritual way and the former was made possible because, as he says, ‘the Church there has a voice that is listened to and has an impact upon society, even at a political level, and usually for good.’ Safe to say then, that Fr Vincent had a decent handle on what mission means.
“Mission is often seen as an activity, whereas I would tend to see mission as a state of soul,” he said. “I don’t see mission as my individual mission, it’s a shared experience of the presence of God. We have one responsibility which is that if we live the new commandment to love one another as Christ loved us then we create the conditions where Christ can be present among us and He’s the missionary, He’s the one who changes, He’s the saviour of the world. So I would see it as a state of soul where you live it with others and together then you present a vision of what it means to be human, what reality is, what society should be, where everything is given meaning.”
A vision for Missio Scotland Having served as Missio Scotland’s Diocesan Director for Motherwell, he was appointed as the National Director in 2017 and ‘having learned on the job’ as he puts it, is now looking forward to his second term, during which he has promised to continue seeking to ‘present a vision of the Church as a family, where we support our brothers and sisters in every other part of the Church through prayers and if they need money then we share what we have because what we have is coming from God. And they share with us their prayers or they send us priests or sisters. So, it’s getting across that sense of Communion.’ That sense of Communion is amplified in his role when he meets with other National Directors from all over the world and gets to witness at close quarters the Church interacting and sharing. And while Fr Vincent had an excellent handle on the work of Missio Scotland before he became National Director, being in the role has enhanced his understanding.
“Missio Scotland would be seen as part of the Church’s mission as a whole and that’s done in different ways,” he said. “We’re about the Church helping the Church and we’re lucky in that regard because that means we already have a bond there that is more than just human.
“As I said before, it’s Christ among us who is the missionary and that’s what should attract people. In the past, Missio Scotland would have been about supporting missionaries who were Scottish or who were white to put it bluntly. Whereas now, Missio Scotland is about the Church here assisting the Church elsewhere and that Church in Uganda or Zambia or India is also helping us, because there’s a crossover as there’s lots of priests now in Scotland who come from Africa and Asia, so Missio Scotland’s task is to create a sense of Church as family as a global reality. One of the things Pope Francis is very much against is this inward-looking Church and I think Missio Scotland’s role in the Church in say Scotland is to help the Church to be outward looking to other parts of the world.”
“So, it’s important to support the work of Missio Scotland, because what gives life meaning is being connected” he continued. “Connecting with people and having a strong sense of community gives meaning to your wider relationships and it enables you to have an idealism, a bigger vision of what it means to be human and what humanity is. I think that’s part of Missio Scotland’s role. Missio Scotland is ostensibly about us helping people in other parts of the Church elsewhere and they, in turn, help us through their prayers and personnel, but also the very act of going out and being concerned about other places has a good benefit for us as human beings. I think Missio Scotland offers a space where that can be achieved and it can be achieved because we are connected to God and connected to a faith and a whole tradition.
“In terms of the future of Missio Scotland, I would love to see more engagement with young people because they have an energy and they have an idealism that I think could fit in very well with our vision. It would also provide a focus for them to understand where their faith fits into everything. That would be my biggest hope. I think Missio Scotland will continue the process of trying to become better known and getting the message better known. We’re also helped due to Pope Francis and his commitment to mission, which is very in tune in the world in which we live in.”
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