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Croí Nua – a programme of faith and renewal

23 July, 2015

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“We sense a great hunger for spirituality, people want to connect with what is spiritual in their lives, and this is not being nourished enough for them.”
Hilary Musgrave

Croí Nua is an innovative multimedia programme on spirituality geared specifically towards adult faith renewal in Ireland.

The Programme developed by Hilary Musgrave and Monica Brown, with various authors including Daniel O’Leary, Mark Patrick Hederman, Margaret Silf, Mary Kate Hagan, Finola Cunnane, Michael Rodgers, Nellie McLaughlin and Pat Moore, has drawn on the wisdom and tradition of Ireland’s ancient Celtic heritage and weaves this throughout with insights from contemporary theology and spirituality, and the richness and wisdom of Scripture.

Over a series of eight gatherings, participants in small groups explore thematic reflections such as – the seasons of life, the God who journeys with us, the grace of suffering, the heart of prayer, the healing journey and living faith.

Croí Nua came about, according to Monica Brown, because she and Hilary were asked to work with small groups of women in the area of faith sharing and they discovered that the women had nothing to work with.

She and Hilary decided they would set about providing something to put into people’s hands so that when they came together in their groups they would have something that could inform them and give them a new vision and a depth of faith.

“We see Croí Nua as a stepping stone to something deeper and richer and not as an end in itself,” Monica explains and adds that it is about “the sense of being in God as per the Celtic sense of the all-pervasive presence of God”.



Hilary Musgrave and Monica Brown

Hilary Musgrave and Monica Brown

Monica Brown is a composer, teacher, facilitator, story teller and workshop facilitator, has a Master’s degree in Education from the Australian Catholic University.

She completed her thesis on spiritual development and the integration of creative process.

She is director of Emmaus Productions, a non-profit organisation established in Australia but working internationally in the Church, with an office in Ireland since 1998, as well as offices in Canada and the USA.

Monica has also composed and recorded 16 collections of songs for children, youth and adults (including the universally appealing ‘One People One Land’).

Monica BrownShe has written and produced videos and other resources in the area of faith formation, liturgy and ritual.

Monica is a woman who has allowed her heart to be made sensitive and alive to God in all the arts, in culture and in prayer and scripture.

She has a special ability of enabling people to get in touch with a sense of God and the sacred in their lives.

Hilary Musgrave worked for many years in Education both as a teacher and a principal.

More recently, following her studies for a Master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry and Spirituality at Boston College, she now works as a facilitator in creative spirituality and integrates sacred clowning into her ministry.

Hilary Musgrave giving lectureShe also uses photography and imagery by way of engaging people in their appreciation of the sacred in their lives.

Monica and Hilary are co-authors of the book, ‘In Celebration of Wholeness – The Last Supper: Reflections for Prayer and Celebrations – Art and Inspiration of Sieger Koder’.


Croi Nua booklet small-smallWhat People Are Saying About Croí Nua

“Congratulations on assembling such a rich resource of materials, so well worked out and carrying such coherence…the content touched into something deep inside the participants…” Larne facilitator

 “Croí Nua is blessed and I believe it could play a huge part in the recovery of our personal faith… for me it brought me closer to Jesus as the one true God, ever present in my daily life…” Cavan


 “Croí Nua contains the key elements of a renewal programme…If there were to be uptake for the programme nationally it has the potential to contribute to renewal of spiritual life across the board. It has all the ingredients to be a source of inspiration, spiritual growth, and community building. It is an excellent model and I would hope that it will be taken up.” Larne facilitator

Mary O'Dwyer from Wexford

Mary O’Dwyer from WexfordVox Pop: Mary O’Dwyer

Vox Pop: Mary O’Dwyer

“I think people are hungering for something spiritual and something that nurtures them. I think the beauty of the programme is it speaks to their experience.”

“There are people who have come through a lot and this is very healing journey for them. It is very respectful of where each one is at, there is no pressure on anyone.”

“It’s certainly not dogmatic in any sense – I find that it opens up a whole new way of thinking for people. It affirms and confirms what people already know.”

“I think people have a lot of questions and they don’t find enough nourishment and nurturing in the Church, especially women. It opens them up to another way of looking at life. They know this already but it gives them the language, and encourages them to deal with their spiritual journey.”

DSC_0580a“It is taking scripture and linking it to my experience; it feeds and nurtures. If I have an experience, whether it is of suffering or pain or something I have experienced in my life, it has been a very difficult journey for me, I find consolation, people find consolation in scripture.”

“People have wonderful experiences to share and it gives them a forum in a sacred space and respects people’s own experiences and they go away with a new perspective having deepened their experience and spiritual journey.”

“The benefit of this is that they are going to go back into the Church, whether it is Mass or whatever liturgical experiences that they are involved in and it opens it up for them to see it in a very different way. It is a wonderful programme.”

Croi Nua booklet small-small What Makes the Croí Nua programme a valuable resource?

– It is in touch with questions, concerns and issues facing people in Ireland, its Church and society.

– It draws on writers who are experts in their respective fields.

– It gives participants the opportunity to form themselves and each other by reflecting on reading resources that enrich them and challenge them in their understanding of their personal faith.

DSC_0604a– It structures its group gatherings providing opportunities for mutual, respectful sharing and discussion that has focus and purpose.

– It provides through prayer rituals, music and video an appreciation of scripture and draws people into the intimacy of meaningful prayer.

– Its group gatherings foster meaningful relationships through genuine faith sharing that build a real sense of community.

– It is open to anyone and everyone who is genuinely seeking to deepen their faith and enrich their lives.

DSC_0582aAccording to Hilary Musgrave, Croí Nua is a means to reconnect people with a theology of the heart. “God meets us in our hearts, the heart has a wisdom to offer us – we don’t just have wisdom from our heads but from our hearts also.”

“In many parts of Ireland, people do not have the opportunity to avail of programmes that would assist in their spiritual formation. There are few places where people can come together to learn, reflect, converse and pray.”

“Croi Nua is a resource for Irish people who are searching for ways to engage meaningfully in their spiritual enrichment and journey of faith.”

“It offers an opportunity to read and reflect on some current theological thinking; it also offers people a chance to discuss their thoughts and reflections in a respectful environment, and can enrich and inform their spirituality and their lives.”

She adds that it is important for people attending the programme to feel they can discuss issues even those that are controversial.

Croi Nua booklet small-small Each Croí Nua programme kit contains the following components:

– A programme handbook for group facilitatorsDSC_0642a

– A CD of the reading resources and music for prayer rituals, which are presented in pdf format so they can be easily shared with participants or photocopied.

– A DVD of reflective videos which help ‘break open’ the programme’s themes.

Hilary explains that the book which accompanies Croí Nua contains everything that is needed to organise and involve people in the programme. “It even has an invitation letter to send to people giving them details of Croi Nua which allows them time to think about commiting to it.”

Each of the eight sessions is mapped out for facilitators and those who are new to facilitating groups have said it is a great support as it gives them all the assistance they need – from the invitation to join the group to the gathering where people share their response to the readings.

To keep costs down, the readings are provided in PDF format on  a CD. The group facilitator emails the readings to the participants a week before each gathering. The rituals are laid out in the booklet in detail and the audio visual reflections and the music are provided on DVD and CD.

Croi Nua booklet small-small Feedback

“Some people have written to us and phoned us saying the programme has enabled them to journey again with a God who loves and understands them and is with them in the ordinary routine of their lives,” Hilary explains.

“Some people felt that they had to be perfect so that God would accept and love them. Some felt that they had to earn God’s love.”

DSC_0632aThe programme has helped these participants to realise that ‘God loves me as I am – not in spite of who I am’ and as a result have found comfort and peace.

For those who suffer there is a section in the programme on the grace of suffering. Many have spoken of the peace they had found while doing this particular unit.

Others have told us that they connect with the programme because of what they experience of God in the rituals.

The reading component on Celtic spirituality resonates with many –  they say the sense of God they uncover is something they felt was already within them but had never given it expression.

“Still others would say that it has drawn them more deeply into prayer or enabled them to be more mindful in their living. Many say ‘I am coming to know a different God’ and when pushed they speak of a God who is with them constantly, “unlike the distant and remote God that was preached to us when we were young.”

Vox Pop: Sr Cecilia Molloy PBVM, Croí Nua facilitator

She is enthusiastic about the programme and its response among those who undertake the course.

“Faith is discussed from different angles. I think that they are exposed to some spiritual reading that they wouldn’t otherwise come across. Different writers bring their own understanding, lifestyle and background to the question of faith.”Sr Cecilia Molloy PBVM

“I think it would have challenged them – that there are different ways to God. They found the sharing very helpful even though they might have been reticent for one or two sessions.”

She urges parish communities and faith groups who have not tried the programme to take a look at it as she believes it will “enrich their spiritual lives and maybe it would help bring something to the staid liturgies that we have. It throws a few windows on things and I think in particular people liked the Celtic writings.”

I would be familiar with Margaret Silf because I worked in a retreat house for a short while some years back. Most of the writings people really love them – it has moved away from the catechism and religion that they learned as children which was a kind of memory work”.

Hilary MusgraveHilary Musgrave agrees with Sr Cecilia regarding the authors selected and how they can shed new light on a range of issues.

“In the reading for the last theme of Croí Nua, Living Faith, I quoted the eminent Celtic scholar, John J O’Riordan, as saying we hold within us elements of spirituality that remain from our Celtic ancestors.”

“He speaks of those elements a being ‘our understanding of the closeness, goodness and power of God.’ John goes on to say that this understanding of God might help us to know something of our spiritual roots and that by attending to our roots we may find it also opens doors for our future.”

“I believe that Celtic Spirituality has much to offer us on our journey now and into the future.”

Discussing how Irish people’s approach to spirituality has changed in recent years, Hilary says she is saddened when people think of spirituality as only being associated with religious practice and feel that as long as they attend church that that is all that is needed to live in relationship with God.

Because people are disillusioned with the Church and disenchanted with how it operates, huge numbers have walked away. But the search for meaning, for relationship with God is still strong.

PeopleDSC_0583a are searching for God away from church in so many different ways and the Catholic Christian tradition has such a vibrant richness to offer. We need to rediscover that beauty and Croí Nua goes some way to meeting that in what it offers.

As to what aspect of Celtic spirituality speaks most to her, Hilary explains that it is the understanding that God is everywhere.

“All of life is charged with the very life and essence of God. The creative energy of God in people connects with the creative energy of God in nature, in the stars, in the heavens, in the universe and there is a oneness in God, a oneness between what is visible and what is invisible. No part of our life is outside of God and in our visible reality we can touch the divine.”

“In living with a sense of being held in God I find myself living in gratitude. I have come through breast cancer recently and have found great comfort in knowing that God is with me I am not alone.”

DSC_0674aHilary and Monica recently offered a day of reflection for some of those who had done the Croí Nua programme by way of deepening the threads of the programme. One of the most striking elements in Monica and Hilary’s presentations is the appearance of Hilary’s clown persona Naofa.

“People get very surprised when they see me coming in, even though Monica explains at the beginning of the programme who Naofa is and what she is about – it is still a shock when I arrive in full of colour.”

DSC_0701a“They don’t know what to expect as Naofa is unlike any clowning experience that most people have had.  She is not a party clown or a trickster, she doesn’t come to make people laugh or embarrass them in any way.”

“Initially some people, fold their arms and sit right back and say ‘well whatever is happening I’m having none of it’.”

“But gradually, as they experience Naofa’s depths of silence, her gentleness and vulnerability, they feel less threatened and are able to connect with her.  Naofa draws them, through her silence and her reverence, into a deep and sacred place.”

Naofa the Clown“I think what affects people about the clown is the silence and the clown’s vulnerability.”

“Noafa is not trying to be Jesus, not trying to take the place of Jesus or do what Jesus did. She simply embodies the values and the compassion of Jesus.”

“I think that people relate to Naofa because she is vulnerable, and silent and is not afraid to express symbolically something of what people are feeling inside.”

“The way Naofa touches and holds the Word – that comes out of a love I have for scripture, a love I would have for God and for the person of Jesus I have met in scripture. So, Naofa the clown is not acting as such. She allows me to express what I you truly feel.”

“I was delighted with the Programme. We were able to adapt it for our people. The feedback from the group has been wonderful. There is so much in the readings that people want to do it again…” Portlaoise

Croi Nua booklet small-smallThe Croí Nua Programme combines two elements:

A: Personal Reading and Reflection

The reading resources are made available to the Programme participant’s a week before each Group Gathering to allow time for personal reading and reflection before coming into group sharing and discussion. There will be no time in the Group Gatherings to read the resources.

DSC_0645aThis time of personal reading and reflection is one of the most important aspects of the Croí Nua Programme and for this reason we recommend that the readings be done before the Group Gatherings, thus allowing people time to settle their own hearts and minds around the reading before coming to the Group Gathering.

 B: Group Gatherings: Each of the Group Gatherings run for approximately one and half hours. However, it is recommended that additional time be allowed for supper/refreshments at the conclusion of each Gathering.

  • Gathering 1: Introduction of the group members and explanation of the Gathering format
  • Gathering 2: Seasons of Life
  • Gathering 3: God Who Journeys With Us
  • Gathering 4: The Grace of Suffering
  • Gathering 5: The Heart of Prayer
  • Gathering 6: The Healing Journey
  • Gathering 7: Living Faith
  • Gathering 8: Conclusion to the Programme and a call to action

“I have done renewal courses in recent years and I have had to unlearn a lot and have been in a wilderness, but with Croí Nua I have come home”! Cabra, Dublin

For more information on Croí Nua
Tel: Emmaus Productions 01 442 9618 or email emmausireland@emmausproductions.com

DSC_0775aThe Breastplate Prayer of St Fursa

The arms of God be around my shoulders,
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of the Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heavens’ company on my lips,
The work of God’s church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbour in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, The Father of all, my entire being. Amen