UK Church Gaining Strength After Papal Visit

Bishop Reports Renewed Spirituality, Social Outreach

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By Genevieve Pollock

LONDON, FEB. 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The impact of Benedict XVI's U.K. visit is only beginning to show as Catholics express renewed confidence in their mission of evangelization and launch outreach programs to celebrate this legacy. 

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, chair of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, told ZENIT that nearly six months after the Pope's visit, "people within our parishes are still talking about it and the outpouring of grace that was witnessed."

"We have been renewed in our joy and confidence as Catholics," he said. "Looking beyond the confines of our parishes, there is evidence of new conversation with many different groups and agencies working in service of the poor in our local communities."

The prelate reported that "recently, several hundred people met at Liverpool Hope University to reflect on the importance of Catholic Social Teaching and to explore how we can deepen our social engagement, especially with those most in need on our doorsteps."

"The Papal visit provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to present to everyone the face of contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales, and it was in the main very positively received," the bishop affirmed.

He added, "It had the effect of reawakening spirituality in many people's lives whatever their creed or background."

A place for God

For example, Bishop Conry reported, the research shows that after the visit nearly 60% of people expressed the belief that "there is a place for God, religion and virtue in public life."

As well, he stated, "there was a 50% increase in favorability toward the Pope," and more than one in three people expressed the belief that the Pontiff's visit was "good for Britain."

"In this way His Holiness's visit has opened up new opportunities for sharing and dialogue," the prelate observed. "We have seen a renewal of confidence in other Christian Churches and a refreshing of dialogue between the Churches."

He added, "The Holy Father's visit was the first ever state visit of a Pope to the United Kingdom and as such he was given a platform to speak to every member of our society as a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The bishop recalled: "Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the general audience on Sept. 22 described the United Kingdom as a 'crossroads of culture and of the world economy.' As such it represents the entire West, he said."

"The importance of communicating with the culture represented by the United Kingdom has been underlined by the setting up of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization," Bishop Conry noted. "This is the principal challenge for the evangelization ministry in England and Wales."

He continued: "It involves engaging with new media and emerging ideas based on the country's position as a crossroads of culture. 

"In his address, Pope Benedict XVI posed the challenge for evangelization in this country: How do we converse with the intellect of this civilization and communicate the unfading newness of the Gospel in which it is steeped?"

"We are challenged to engage afresh with a country which has an ancient Christian culture," the prelate affirmed.

"In recent years this culture has faded significantly," he stated. "Cardinal Godfried Danneels expressed it, in relation to Europe as a whole, as 'a deforestation of the Christian memory.'"

The bishop concluded, "It's our task to re-seed this fertile soil."

Legacy program

To promote long-term, practical results of Benedict XVI's visit in the Church and society, the Home Mission Desk, which forms part of the bishops' conference evangelization department, launched a Papal visit legacy program called "Some Definite Purpose."

Drawing from the homilies and addresses of the Pope during his days in the United Kingdom, the program encompasses numerous events and projects such as a day of outreach to Catholics who do not attend Mass, which will take place March 26. 

As well, it offers resources to promote processions in honor of the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in June and pilgrimages to Marian shrines in July and August. In October, the faithful are invited to participate in the Little Way Week, seven days of service in the footsteps of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

The program follows six objectives: to know our purpose, to grow in confidence, to witness to our faith, to serve others, to seek and engage in dialogue, and to point to the transcendent.

Parish resources have been developed for this program and publications will be offered throughout the year to support this initiative.

Bishop Conry affirmed: "It's so important that we all consider ways of continuing the journey of 'heart speaks unto heart,' of witnessing to the joy of our faith in everyday life. 

"I invite and encourage everyone to get involved and give generously of their time and talents."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the bishops' conference, noted that "the visit of the Holy Father was a grace-filled occasion and a source of great joy for many."

He expressed the hope "that the new initiative, 'Some Definite Purpose' will support every member of the Catholic community, and those who are not Catholic, to make a positive and faith-filled contribution to life in the United Kingdom." 

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On the Net:

Papal legacy program: www.thepapalvisit.org.uk/Visit-Legacy