Archbishop Mark O’Toole on the contemporary challenges of evangelisation and accompaniment

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On the second day of our three-day evangelisation conference taking place in Liverpool, Archbishop Mark O’Toole gave a wide-ranging keynote address on the very definition and practise of accompaniment couched in the teachings of Popes and Saints, Desert Fathers and Mothers, and underpinned by Scripture.

Real accompaniment is rooted in tradition and has ‘relationship’ at its heart. It’s not accompaniment for accompaniment’s sake, says Archbishop O’Toole, it’s “the experience of God revealed in Jesus” – God as Trinity.

Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation that is often a go-to for his approach to ministry and leadership, gives a beautiful account of true accopaniment:

“Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God… to accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.”

Archbishop O’Toole sees contemporary accompaniment as having three key facets.

“I think it revolves around a three-fold process – firstly, personal healing, secondly a cultural ‘detoxing’, and thirdly, intellectual conversion. Interestingly enough, in many of the recent submissions for the Synodal process, the need and desire of formation is emphasised again and again. I think that Formation needs to focus around these three elements – personal healing, cultural detoxing, and intellectual conversion.”

The Archbishop is also acutely aware that contemporary culture presents different challenges in terms of how we reach others with our faith.

“We are invited to overcome and let go of some of the more damaging elements of contemporary culture. Our countries are transitioning from Christendom to a new Apostolic experience… England and Wales, and so many other countries in Europe and other parts of the world, are shifting from a place in which Christianity was the dominant cultural influence – ‘Christendom’ – to one in which it is merely one influence among others, and in this sense similar to the ‘Apostolic age’…

“Our challenge is that our Church, and many of us who have to lead or teach in our communities, are still living as though we are in Christendom mode. The reality is that the prevailing stream of culture is flowing against a predominantly Christian view of life. To know this, one simply needs to look at how we are dominated by TV and the Media culture of celebrity. Look at what is passing through national Parliaments in our countries, in terms of legislation regarding the beginning and end of life. What is happening in Schools, Colleges of Higher Education and Universities in respect of understandings of the human person and human sexuality. What a challenge there is, too, in Hospitals or Public Institutions, to maintain a specifically Christian vision.”

Archbishop O’Toole concludes with something of a rallying cry – encouragement to be grateful for the sheer grace of belonging to the Catholic Church.

“It is Jesus Christ who is proclaimed to us, accompanies us. We, in turn must proclaim Him, accompany others that they more deeply encounter Him. This is what it means to be a missionary disciple, desirous to make other disciples, to truly be ‘disciple-making disciples’. Let us come back to this truth again and again.”


You can download the Archbishop’s full keynote address.