The Word of God – blessing and task

A little late this week 3 members write from an international conference in Chile.

Martin writes

The International Forum on Adult Religious Education holds a consultation every two years. The theme of this year’s consultation is The Word of God: blessing and task for catechesis todayand it is being held in Santiago, Chile over this last week. The invitation to attends goes to Bishops’ Conferences around the world and It is a privilege to be part of a small group from England and Wales.

The Forum is 20 years old this year and it began as an initiative from England and Wales. The first meeting was organised by Paddy Purnell, Anne McDowell and Margaret Foley and held at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill. Each meeting takes a similar format: reflection and discussion on a theme, generally inspired by a Church document or initiative, and country sharing. What can be fascinating is the interplay between the familiar and the unknown — the similarities and difficulties we hold in common and differences that can be beyond our experience.

Two highlights for me have hearing about the meeting of Latin American bishops – CELAM – at Aparaceido in Brazil last year. Their reflections on catechesis, the need for bishops and their agencies to have an examination of conscience as to where they have failed to be the Church and the importance of the catechumenal model for all catechesis.

On Sunday morning we visited local parishes to look at family catechesis. We met families from the parish who spoke to us about their involvement. What was moving was the sense that the parish and the catechesis was responsibility of the community and that the involvement in family catechesis had strengthened relationships.

Paula writes

It has been a real privilege to take part in this international consultation. Throughout the process there have been opportunities to hear from countries around the world about the joys and challenges of adult religious education and also our hopes for this ministry in the future.

For me the most striking experience was the visit to a local parish for Sunday Eucharist and sharing with parish catechists. The welcome and hospitality was overwhelming and humbling at the same time. We were welcomed into two local parishes and met those involved in family catechesis. The parish and community structures are very different to those in the UK and the numbers of catechists quite astonishing. Catechists undertake formation provided by the archdiocese, and this is a serious undertaking for the catechists and the whole family of the catechist. Married couples are catechists together and as one man commented, although this interfered with his football team it was important for him and his wife to undertake this ministry together. The ministry of catechesis is described with great enthusiasm and commitment as a lifelong ministry in the parish community, catechists are called to live their lives as witnesses to the Word of God that they share. This was not undertaken lightly, and in the people we met, it was clear that their lives, in mind heart and action was shot through with the Word of God.

A last thing that struck me was the role of the godparent. In family catechesis, all families need a father in those instances where a woman may be widowed or divorced and Godfather becomes the father in the family. In our own situation in the RCIA and RCIC in England and Wales, maybe there is something to be learned from this idea.

Linda writes

A key moving experience for the group was the visit to the Sanctuary of Fr Alberto Hurtado.

Fr Hurtado was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005 and is the third saint for Chile. Born in 1901 he died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1952.

His ministry as a priest focussed much on the young and the poor. The dvd clip we saw showed a warm and ever-present smile.

The Sanctuary includes a museum reflecting his life and work, a beautiful garden including a wall where people’s prayer petitions and thanksgiving for prayer are placed and a chapel where the saint’s tomb forms the altar. It is a place of grate peace which celebrates the life Fr Hurtado and which offers the opportunity for reflection and prayer.


All Are Welcome In This Place!

We all know that our parish community is a warm and welcoming community – its just that sometimes we hide it quite well!

I have three distinct experiences of moving to new areas and finding a new parish. When I left college and took my first job in a completely alien city, I found a warm, welcoming and vibrant parish community – people introduced themselves, told me what kind of things were happening in the parish and invited me to join in with certain groups and activities. When I moved to a new city with a new teaching post, I moved to a very active and lively parish – who didn’t need anyone else. They were quite happy with themselves, thankyou very much. After a couple of months, I gave up. I felt quite invisible. It was a frustrating and isolating experience and for a time, I didn’t go to Church at all until I moved house and thought I’d try again. It was a relief to find a parish where I met families I knew and children I taught. In my present parish (another city), there was a gradual initiation into the community in several stages. Week 1 – nothing. After a couple of weeks, when people began to realise that I was still there, there were a couple of nods of the head. After a month, there were greetings exchanged and finally conversation.

Stepping into a new place, meeting a new community can be very intimidating. Parish communities are no longer as stable and established as they once were – people move for work and a whole variety of reasons. Perhaps in larger parishes, new faces are lost in the crowd. So how do we welcome new people into our communities?

Our readings for the first Sunday of Advent asked us to ‘Stay Awake’. Maybe during Advent and the Christmas season, we can stay awake and watch for the new faces and families who join our communities and perhaps old ones we haven’t seen for a while. We may only meet them once or twice, and how we welcome them on those occasions makes an impression and might well make a difference. Take a special care to notice those who come to Mass on their own. How do we welcome those for whom English isn’t a first language? Do we have information in Polish, Portuguese etc?

Take a parish audit:

  • When you walk through the doors of the Church, what is your immediate impression?
  • Is the word “Welcome” obvious?
  • Is information regarding mass times, facilities and contact numbers (e.g. Children’s Liturgy leaders) immediately noticeable?
  • Before Mass, who is there to welcome people?

As the new Church year starts, clear out the clutter of old notices and papers and create a fresh and welcoming space.

The First Sunday of Advent is one of the times, through the year, when many parishes  celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate. The continuing welcome we extend to those journeying towards initiation or reception into the Church makes a difference to their experience and the experience of the parish journeying with them. What opportunities are there for the two journeys to interact? Celebrate the liturgies of the RCIA publicly during the Sunday liturgy, pray for the Candidates and Catechumens during the General Intercessions, introduce the parish community to the candidates and catechumens and the candidates and catechumens to the parish community. Evidence suggests the welcome of the community both during the journey towards initiation and afterwards makes a difference to whether the newly received stay with the Church or disappear off the radar.

There is information available on the internet.

  • Visit Portsmouth diocesan website and for downloads on the Ministry of Welcome, Tips for Being a Welcoming Parish and Keeping in Touch.
  • Also CASE Resources which has suggestions for welcoming people back to Church this Advent and Christmas.

Stay awake. Keep watch.

Paula B