The Papal Visit to the United Kingdom is now a month ago. Anecdotally there have reports of rise in Mass attendance and an increase in people enquiring. This is good news. Anecdotally I have also heard of a parish that was turning people away because ‘the course had already started’. Not quite so good news. Leaving aside the ‘course’ we should try not to forget that we are here to respond to those who come to us not expect them to fit in with our programme. When we welcome those who come to use we may discover that they bring gifts.
Pope Benedict, a visitor who was not at first welcomed by all in this land, brought a gift of faith for people. For some people this was gift which was new or maybe reawakened something. It is worth reflecting, I think, on what might have attracted people. First of all it will be a variety of things, and indeed probably a mixture rather just one. There will be some who heard something in what the Holy Father said; in a liturgical context or in one of his speeches. Perhaps they appreciated his quiet but strong defence of the place of religion in public life. It might have been others’ words addressing him with affection or respect. Or maybe Newman was a source of interest and the idea of someone being declared ‘blessed’. It might not even been words. Some of the music: quiet and prayerful or loud and joyful. Perhaps it was the sight of Benedict in the liturgy — prayerfully engaged. Or the sight of thousands of people coming together to pray. Or the crowds lining the routes; the babies kissed, the flags waving. Or the joy. Or the silence.
The pre-catechumenate is the time of anecdotes and stories. When we find out what has attracted people to make this step. And show them that the picture has many facets. When we help them articulate what they are looking for. It is a challenge for us to listen and then respond.
One of the key themes of Pope Benedict’s teaching is that we are witnesses to a person – Jesus. In many ways, in words and in actions he came to us as a witness.