ACP’s sister association in England meets

I attended the public meeting of the ‘A Call to Action’ group at Heythrop College on Wednesday 10 October . By going to the website (address here) you will see the story of the development of this group. Having been part of the journey of the ACP from its initial meeting at Portlaoise, through diocesan meetings in Cork, to the day in the Regency, I wondered what would be similar or different at this meeting.
The meeting began with a now familiar experience. The attendance was much bigger than expected and we had to cross Kensington High St. to the welcome of the St. Mary Abbot Church. Instead of an anticipated 200 people over 400 turned up from all over England.
The introductions followed outlining the lead up to the meeting. We were told that the priests organising the meeting had visited Archbishop Nichols a few days earlier to brief him on their plans. He indicated to them that he agreed that there are many issues that need to be addressed. At the end of the meeting Fr. Tom O’Loughlin, of the organising group, made it clear that his years working at the Corrymeela Community had convinced him of the value of dialogue, of having safe, respectful places to speak and listen.
The Speakers
The website will tell you about the people asked to speak. The four inputs recalled the Second Vatican Council and the happenings since. A few things said by these varied, learned and passionate speakers stood out for me:
– Chris Mc Donnell, ‘Where there is no vision the people perish’. Has a gap emerged between the vision of the Bishops and the Community of the Faithful? The introduction of the New Missal was cited as an example.
– Catherine O Donovan, a proud daughter of Turners Cross in Cork, recalled being a young Religious Sister in Rome in 1962. Pope John XXIII visited their Community and there was a real sense that the Vatican was opening up and becoming more accessible. However she now feels that so many women have not experienced the progress that would lead them to feel that their daughters and granddaughters are full and equally respected members, although all share the same Baptism. She recalled the words of Cardinal Suenens when he said ‘half the Church are not represented here’.
– Professor Tom O Loughlin, with his knowledge of early Church history, spoke about ‘community’. The size of early church communities would have been about 100 people. The arrival of Church buildings seating 1000 or more is a recent development. He also reminded us that the call of the early Church was not to be ‘Officers of a Corporation’ but to ‘go out and make disciples’.
– Gerard Hughes offered the diagnosis that there is ‘too much fear’. This fear that leaves Bishops looking over their shoulder to Rome. Parish Priests similarly looking to the Diocese. People feeling limited by the attitudes of their priest. However if we hold that the ‘Spirit of God’ is present in all then trust and subsidiarity will replace the authoritarianism that seems to be rife.
Discussion groups followed. These were formed in Diocesan groups. The issues raised reflected much of what was said by the speakers. So many of the people present had given decades of service, especially in their parishes, and now wondered if there was hope for a renewal.
Plenary Session
A brief question and answer session followed and we were told that the organising group, which has now grown from 7 to 9, would take the feedback and energy of the day and try to plan a way forward. There was talk of an ongoing series of meetings to be held throughout the country.
My sense of the day was that this was a new process trying to find its feet. It would do this in dialogue with all people of goodwill. It seemed to me that the priests who attended came more from Religious Orders and Societies although I could be mistaken in this. It was good to be there. There was a shared view that there are real issues to be named and addressed and that there are many other people who wanted to be part of this conversation.

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One Comment

  1. Fr. Kieren says:

    Hi Micheal, I have just been reading the documents on the groups website. Must admit I found them interesting and challenging, although some of the points I disagree with. Can I just make a correction to your article, according to the minutes/report of the meeting 350 people attended, not over 400. I know I am splitting hairs but I think the meeting should be reported accurately. I am a great fan of Gerry Hughes after hearing him speak – on philosophy – as an undergraduate many years ago at Heythrop. However, I must take him to task over one issue, I find that he makes a generalisation, regarding the clergy (diocesan) looking over their shoulders worrying about their Bishops, I am sure that some do feel this way, but I know many others who don’t share that sentiment, I think it is a bit naughty for a Jesuit who is outside the structure of a Diocese making such assumptions, I am sure he would put to right any student of philosophy who made such generalisation. I agree that sometimes as a parish priest, I do feel a little like an administrator rather than a herald of the gospel, I certainly wasn’t ordained to be an administrator!
    Any way, I wish the group well, although I don’t fully agree with the points raised by the presentations, they offered food fo thought!
    But I can’t help but think that perhaps we are arguing about rearranging the deck chairs while the ship is sinking! It would have interesting if a presentation had been made focusing on mission, evangelisation and the joy of the Gospel revealed in Christ, in the spirit and context of Vat II and especially Gaudium et Spes. I hope that might be developed by the group later.

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