Regular readers of these pages will know that there is annual meeting of people involved in RCIA/Catechumenate across Europe each spring. The meeting has a cycle of formats: a large conference, a planning meeting, and smaller conference at which a topic is looked at in more detail. This year was the last of these and we hosted it here in Chichester. The size is 1 or 2 per country and a larger local team. So we had 26 participants with representatives from 14 countries — from Ireland to Hungary, Sweden to Malta. We were slightly disrupted by train strikes on the first day both here and in France but those who could arrived safely by the start on Wednesday afternoon.
We had chosen as a topic the relationship between Initiation and the New Evangelisation which we approached from a number of angles. We began by exploring some projects which are inspired by the catechumenal model. Veronica Murphy introduced the work of Liverpool Archdiocese in supporting baptismal and post-baptismal catechesis in With you always. Caroline Dolllard spoke of her national work to draw together Guidelines for Marriage Preparation, which again use the template of the catechumenate to help shape people understand the difference stages of preparation and marriage. I was delighted that we were joined for the meeting by Matthew Salisbury, National Liturgy and Worship Adviser for the Church of England. This was the first time there had been an Anglican representative for other 10 years. He spoke about the development of liturgical texts for both infant and adult baptism and also about the Pilgrim Course which is intended for adult faith formation.
Connecting more directly with the topic Alex Heath spoke about his work encouraging evangelisation in Northampton and Julia Palmer spoke of the Crossing the Threshold project which was piloted in Nottingham diocese. Peter McGrail of Liverpool Hope University then led us in 2 rich sessions looking at different understandings of New Evangelisation, the opportunities the Catechumenate offers and the place of Pope Francis. This was meaty stuff which had everyone engaging and bringing the experience of the different countries to the table. Two particular ideas remain with me. That from a South American perspective the first evangelisation is an ambiguous event (it brought Christianity but also disease etc.) so there is a need for a new evangelisation but one which has an option for the poor – what is the good news we offer? Pope Francis has written eloquently on the environment but there is a task to explore the links (and again the ambiguity) between the core symbols of initiation: water, oil, fire, light have profound ecological dimensions. We see water as life-giving but many in the world do not have access to clean water.
Another dimension of these meetings is the country sharing – brief reports from each country. We had given quite a difficult question which was ‘how do pastoral initiatives (such as the Year of Mercy) affect the Catechumenate?’ For some countries there was no connection whatever – they were two different categories. Other spoke about how catechumens had been invited to participate in pilgrimages and meetings. One country raised the question of catechumens and 2nd marriages. Another saw the year as an opportunity to explore people’s images of God (both catechumens and faithful). Many, both inside and outside the Church see God as an angry, unpredictable parent rather than a loving, merciful father. The catechumenate is not just shaped by pastoral initiatives but also by what is happening in the world. In some countries bishops had linked the Year of Mercy with welcoming the stranger and refugee and catechumenate groups had been encouraged to get involved in charitable outreach. For some countries they were experiencing muslim migrants seeking to join the catechumenate this had proved a challenge in terms of content as well as the need to provide resources in a range of languages.
Chichester Cathedral were very welcoming to the group. We had Mass in the Cathedral, including with Bishop Richard Moth. We also attended Evensong. In the Church of England they have noted that whereas attendance in local churches is declining the numbers attending Cathedral liturgies is rising. Evensong was an unfamiliar experience for many in the group and some found it difficult because participation is a much lower key than many active Catholics are used to. However, it may have the hallmarks of what people call a ‘seeker service’ – but that is a reflection for another time. Following Evensong we were invited for a Drink Reception by the Cathedral Dean – the occasion of the photo at the top of the page.
EuroCat Bureau B was a rich and rewarding few days. It was not the intention to solve the question of the relationship between initiation and new evangelisation but I feel that we now have a better picture of the pieces of the jigsaw and how some of them fit together. Like any jigsaw the challenge is how do you make connections between the centre and the edge or margins.