Catholic leaders in adult formation and catechesis from across England and Wales have met for a national gathering to explore how to respond practically to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation concerning the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.
Representatives from a breadth of dioceses met in Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire 27 – 28 November, just hours after Evangelii Gaudium had been released. They spent 24 hours, led by their keynote speaker, Sr Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ, unpacking its content, reflecting too how they might apply what it teaches to their work with parishes. Dr Simmonds, who is Senior Lecturer in Pastoral and Social Studies and Theology at Heythrop College, University of London, said:
“Evangelii Gaudium is a breath of fresh air. It isn’t that Pope Francis is saying anything radically new, but he says it convincingly because he embodies in his actions what he is teaching. Instead of a faith lived ‘like Lent without Easter’ he invite us all to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He reminds us of the joy that lies amid the little things of life and of the many people who are open to such an encounter but put off by a church with closed doors and closed minds.”
“His preference for ‘a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security’ echoes the pastoral experiences of so many evangelisers on the ground. ‘The joy of evangelising always arises from grateful remembrance’ and there is so much in our own faith journeys that we can remember with gratitude. This is the core of precious personal experience from which we are encouraged to evangelise others with confidence and joy.”
Attendees at this annual gathering play a lead role in their diocese to support baptised Catholics and non Catholic enquirers to grow in their faith. Each year they collectively offer a vast number of courses, events and resources to support adult faith formation. The programme for the overnight therefore also included time for attendees to share experiences and samples of their work.
Fr Eddie Clare, representing the Archdiocese of Birmingham, and Maryvale Institute, said: “There’s a sense that we’re all sharing in the one mission of the Church, following the inspiring leadership of Pope Francis.” Meanwhile, Marie Mann, from the Archdiocese of Southwark, said: “This has been a time for sharing and support. It’s been an opportunity to grow in faith and fellowship.”
In response to the content of Evangelii Gaudium, one of the conference sessions invited those present to share a moment of their own journey of faith. This was to affirm that, as leaders in adult formation, an important part of this role is to echo faith to others, to communicate and witness to a living and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, so as to encourage and enable others to grow and to do the same.
Among the dioceses represented at the overnight were: Arundel & Brighton, Birmingham, Brentwood, Hexham & Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Northampton, Nottingham, Plymouth and Southwark. Also present were representatives of the RCIA National Network for England & Wales (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), The Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference, Catholic Centre of Mission – Anglesey, and the Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Desk.