Nottingham Diocese student wins Catenian Public Speaking National Final


The 2018 Catenian Public Speaking Competition for Fifth and Sixth Form students in Catholic Education took place at the Manchester Conference Centre on Sunday September.

This year’s final consisted of fourteen young adults from across the country and included Peter Firbank from Blessed Robert Sutton College, Burton-on-Trent in Nottingham Diocese. Peter’s chosen topic was: "Freedom is not given it is won."

The adjudication followed with Wendy Sutcliffe commenting on each contestant’s performance and adding useful pointers for improvement before announcing the result.

National President John Hogan then made the presentations to first placed, Peter Firbank from Blessed Robert Sutton College, Burton-on Trent who was representing Province 15 of the Association, which covers much of Nottingham Diocese. He received the winner’s trophy, a cheque for £200 together with a trophy and a cheque for £100 for his school. His winning speech is below.

All the other competitors received £25 and every competitor received a certificate to commemorate the contest.

Peter’s speech:

"What does being free mean to you? What is freedom? Think about it for a moment. What allows us to be free? And what happens when our freedoms are taken away from us?

"Think about this: Phillip A. Randolph once said: 'Freedom is not given; it is won,' and he, as a black civil rights campaigner, should know what he is on about.

"In true 21st century style, I didn’t think about any of this, I just used Google instead, so the Oxford Dictionary states that freedom is 'the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.'

"In this country, we are afforded the right to be free from fear, to love who we want and to eat cream cheese and curry. These human rights are given to us on the day of our birth, so according to Randolph, I won just by being born! Go me!

"However, we must look at the context in which Randolph was speaking. Phillip Randolph was an African-American civil rights campaigner who organised the 1963 march on Washington, the one where Martin Luther King gave his iconic 'I have a dream' speech. With the context in mind, we can better understand what Randolph was saying when he said: 'Freedom is not given; it is won.' Black people needed to fight for their rights to be free, which they did, and they won. Sort of, anyway.

"So, does this speak for the whole of history? Have oppressed people always been forced to fight for their freedoms? Fight and win their freedoms to think, act and do as they please?

"Let’s take a quick journey through time and see if freedom is achievable. In the west, we love the idea that democracy sets us free!

"So let’s look at the democracies which we have based some of our most fundamental ideas about democracy on, namely the classical civilisations of Rome and Athens. While we may hail them as democracies, Rome was in fact an oligarchy where the top one percent could ever hope to be elected; and Athens, where they boasted a full democracy, apart from women, children, slaves, foreigners and the poor, all citizens could vote! Just to clarify, to be a citizen you had to be male, which didn’t really make it very representative.

"What about revolutions? Surely they create freedom, times when oppressed people rise up and overthrow their oppressors? A good example is the French Revolution of 1789, where the peasants and students of France succeeded in overthrowing their oppressive monarchy! But they only replaced a Philippe with a Bonaparte on the seat of power.

"As many of you may know, this year marks 100 years since women in this country received the right to vote, thanks to the constant protest of the suffragettes and the suffragists. This freedom to vote is one of the most important rights we have in this country, and yet only 66.1% of those eligible to vote did so in 2015. If we say that having the right to vote makes you free in a democracy like ours, then what does it mean when you have that right but don’t use it?

"In the United Kingdom, we hold democracy as one of our core values, our British values; through democracy we gain freedom, right? No, Britain is anything but a true democracy. We have instead a constitutional monarchy, we have an unelected head of state, who must be Anglican, by the way, no Catholics allowed; and a completely unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords.

"Freedom can also be very subjective: for Brexiteers, leaving the European Union means freedom from Brussels bureaucracy and control over our borders. For Remainers, being in the EU means access to freedom of movement.

"Who’s right? Whose version of freedom is real? 'Freedom is not given; it is won!' But has it really ever been won? How can we be sure we are free? Is freedom just an illusion we make up to make ourselves feel better about our existence?

"I don't know. Ask Google."

The aims of the Catenian Association are: to support and encourage friendship between members and their families; to support one another in the practice of their Faith; to support members, their families and widows in times of need; to promote the interests and development of young Catholics; to assist the clergy and support vocations to the priesthood and religious life; to provide support to Catholic and other charities.

The support of young Catholics is an important aspect of the work of the Association. Many Catenians act as school governors and many Circles provide support to local schools by arranging mock interviews, mentoring and helping with the preparation of CVs. A Schools Public Speaking Competition is organised each year with regional rounds and a national final. For 25 years a Bursary Fund has provided financial support to young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are planning voluntary work overseas or have volunteered to act as helpers on HCPT or Diocesan Pilgrimages. The Association also works closely with the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation and provided £28,000 in sponsorship to Flame 2017 – the National Catholic Youth Congress held at Wembley Arena in March this year. Membership of the Catenian Association is open to all men who are committed to the practice of their Faith. Local Circles exist throughout the Nottingham Diocese and welcome approaches from anyone who wishes to learn more about the Association or is considering membership. An excellent website ( gives additional information and enquiries can be made to: Mike Hopkins (email: or telephone 01455 612874).