James Ronan, 24, has written a reflective piece about finishing Step into the Gap, sharing stories of Cambodia, his highlights and what his hopes are for a future career.
So the time has come to say goodbye to Blackpool and St Mary’s Catholic Academy. It has been incredible year, moving all the way up from Devon to live in Blackpool to volunteer for CAFOD. It has probably been the biggest step in my life so far. Literally Stepping into the Gap in Blackpool: moving to a new area, not knowing anybody and starting a new life for a year. It has all worked out and I have had so many amazing experiences, made new friends and have met so many inspiring people, most notably in Cambodia with my fellow CAFOD gappers.
It has been great to play my small part in being able to share CAFOD’s work this year working in the Diocese of Lancaster and living within the parish at St John Vianney Presbytery. Working at St Mary’s as part of the chaplaincy team has been an absolute joy and I will have very fond memories of the team and the work we have achieved this year. My highlights include co-organising the 6th form Climate debate for CAFOD’s Speak Up campaign with guest MPs Paul Maynard and Gordon Marsden in October 2016. Leading sessions with Year 7s during form time about the Refugee crisis and the Lampedusa cross, and presenting assemblies to all college forms with the chaplaincy team on Justice January and CAFOD’s renewable energy campaign Power to Be.
The Cambodia visit in January was so inspiring and affirming for me of CAFOD’s work overseas. Previously in Devon I had fundraised a lot for CAFOD (over £7,000) never really knowing the impact such fundraising was having. Seeing first-hand the difference my parish fundraising had made over the years as well as all the collective impact of the Catholic communities’ support in England and Wales on the other side of the world in Cambodia was elevating.
It’s an experience I will never forget. I have very fond memories of the Cambodian people we visited during our time in Battambang and Siem Reap who were so welcoming and CAFOD’s partners Village Support Group and Srer Khmer who we spent time with. On my return to the UK, the last few months of my placement have been about sharing CAFOD campaigns, fundraising and sharing the inspirational stories of the people I met and spent time with in Cambodia. In May I visited the CAFOD Plymouth Schools Volunteers to share about my Cambodia experiences and I also shared with parishioners after Mass at my old parish church in Tavistock.
As well as sharing my CAFOD Step into the Gap experiences this year with students, parishioners and CAFOD volunteers, I have also been able to share my gap year work with British and American Actors. In May I managed to share about my CAFOD gap year work with actress Hannah Spearritt (S Club 7) and actor Andrew-Lee Potts (from ITVs Primeval) at a comic convention in Huddersfield. In June I also shared with British actor Paul Blackthorne (TV show Arrow) and American actress Danielle Panabaker (TV show The Flash) at a convention in Blackpool. It has been a fantastic year of sharing CAFOD’s work with others, the important stories of the Cambodian people I met and my work as a CAFOD Gapper working at St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool.
More recently from the 7th to the 9th of July in Oxford the CAFOD gappers had a final weekend get together, for our final evaluation and celebration. The weekend was fantastic. Myself and the other gappers went out for a meal on the Friday evening which was an opportunity to catch up about our CAFOD work and the things we had been doing. On the Saturday we were joined by CAFOD staff Catherine Jones and Lucy Jardine who run the Step into the Gap programme as well as Sister Ann who is a part of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus who are one of the partners of the Step into the Gap programme.
We began the Saturday morning with prayer and reflection, writing on cut-out hands the people who have made a difference to our lives this year. We also used cut-out footprints to represent the people we had shared CAFOD’s work with this year, thinking about the impact of our CAFOD sharing. On the Saturday evening we all went out for a final meal with Catherine, Lucy and Sister Ann to celebrate our accomplishments this year completing the Step into the GAP programme.
There are so many people I would like to ‘Thank’ this year so I will only mention a few. I would like to ‘Thank’ everyone at St Mary’s and the parish of St John Vianney as well as everyone involved with the Step into the Gap programme, especially Bishop Michael Campbell and CAFOD staff Catherine Jones, Lucy Jardine and Patrick Gardner. I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to Fr Peter Sharrock and Sister Ann for their support this year in Blackpool and I would also like to ‘Thank’ this year’s CAFOD Gappers: Rod, Charlotte, Sophie, Bridgid, Lizzie, Sophie and Hannah for making this year so memorable and amazing.
In terms of my future I am moving down to Somerset for the time being. I have gained so many skills and have had so many new experiences this year that I hope to be able to use these to eventually develop a career in a Catholic Diocese somewhere or to work for a charity in the development sector. I hope to be able to continue to put my Catholic faith into action building on everything I have achieved so far and I am excited about what the future holds for me.