Most Rev Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, affirmed that witnessing to Christ’s love is the most important part of the new evangelisation, during his homily at the third of the Bishops’ Conference ‘Crossing the Threshold’ events on Saturday 3 March.
The Archbishop addressed around 200 delegates from across the province, at the Diocesan Christian Education Centre in Crawley. The focus of the day was ministry and outreach to non-churchgoing Catholics who number at least four million in England and Wales.
Archbishop Smith said:
“We cannot have a tick box mentality if we want a loving relationship with God. Love is at the heart of what Jesus preaches to his disciples. We are a community of love, unconditional love, which we must reflect in the way we live. If we try and do this people will see the real face of Christ in the Church, in you and me. In my conversations with people who have decided to become Catholics, above all they say what has attracted them to the Church is a person or family they have met, ordinary people, who in the way they acted drew them into the Church so that they say, ‘I want to be a Catholic, too!’ Personal witness is the key by living the Gospel in our lives.”
The day programme included a series of workshops focusing on practical skills to support ministry and outreach to non-churchgoing Catholics.
The themes covered were:
What is the basic Gospel message?
Making the most of our encounters with non-churchgoing Catholics
How to welcome people and provide the appropriate space in a small group meeting?
How to signpost people to the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Building bridges with non-churchgoers through a shared involvement in social action
Using RCIA as a tool to support non-churchgoers to return to parish life
The Crawley event was an initiative of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis, chaired by Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, who gave the main talk on the day. He said:
“There are lots of reasons why people stop practising their faith. They are rarely because someone has offended them, but things happen that mean they stop going. There is not a crisis in the Church but the Spirit is calling us to do something… We should get back to preaching the Gospel. The changes that have taken place in the Church can leave people not sure what to do, but we must neither try and go back to some supposed golden age or look to some promised future, but rather get back to our founding story in Jesus Christ. Our concern should not be numbers, but preaching the Gospel because we believe we have a message that can change people lives. We have a mission to save the world, to preach Christ to the nations.”
At different points in the day people who had returned to the practice of their faith after many years of being distant from parish life gave their testimony. The climax of the day was the celebration of the Mass at which Archbishop Smith presided and preached. The day ended with everyone coming forward to be signed with the sign of the cross by one of the bishops, with the words “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” and to be given a copy of Blessed John Henry Newman’s poem ‘Radiating Christ’.
A team from the Diocese of Arundel of Brighton partnered with the Home Mission Desk of the Bishops’ Conference and the national core group for outreach and ministry to non-churchgoing Catholics to organise the event. The sharing and day feedback will assist the writing of a resource for every parish about ministry and outreach to non churchgoing Catholics. The resource will be made available in 2013.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols will host the next tour day in Westminster on 28 April when Bishop Richard Moth, Bishopric of the Forces, will deliver the keynote address.
Home Mission Desk
Tel. 020 7 901 4818
Crossing the Threshold