Mission Program Calls for Little Way Witness

Interview With England and Wales Chairman of Evangelization

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

HOVE, England, SEPT. 14, 2009 (Zenit.org).- People need us to proclaim God’s word to them, but also to show them God’s love through service, says Bishop Kieran Conry of the Arundel and Brighton Diocese in England.

Bishop Conry is the head of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis.

In this interview, he speaks about the upcoming national initiative called «Home Mission Sunday,» which takes place Sep. 20 and will focus on service. He also explains how St. Thérèse of Lisieux inspired a special program based on witnessing in little ways.

ZENIT: What is Home Mission Sunday?

Bishop Conry: Home Mission Sunday is a national initiative of the bishops and is being resourced by the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation. 

It is a day of prayer for the spread of the Gospel in England and Wales. This year it will be celebrated on Sept. 20 and has as its theme, «They Will Know Him by the Good Works That You Do.»

Parishes, families, communities, schools and individuals in England and Wales are invited to pray, reflect and use the resources being made available to consider how they can witness to their faith through service. 

ZENIT: Why has «service» been chosen as this year’s theme?

Bishop Conry: The theme has been chosen in prayerful response to the content of the Scripture readings for the day and the current economic climate. 

Most of us know someone who is presently concerned about their financial and job status, and the effect on their families. Many people need practical help, and although it is our duty as baptized to always be ready to preach the Gospel using words (1 Peter 3:15), there is a need to show our faith to others as well through active, practical witness. Thus, through a variety of ways, people will be enabled to recognize the face of Jesus Christ.

ZENIT: Is there a particular Church document that unpacks the importance of witnessing through charity?

Bishop Conry: Pope Benedict XVI’s fairly recent encyclical, «Deus Caritas Est,» provides an outstanding teaching on «The Practice of Love by the Church as a ‘Community of Love.'» It’s this encyclical that has particularly inspired the team of people who have been making the resources in support of this year’s Home Mission Sunday. 

In «Deus Caritas Est,» the Holy Father makes explicit that there is an «unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor» (No. 16) and that there is «a fruitful link between evangelization and works of charity» (No. 30b). 

Through our actions we make Christ visible to others, so that — as the prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman states — people «see no longer us but only Jesus.» In a culture where, for many, the holy name of Jesus is only associated with swearing, an active, practical witness is especially important for Home Mission.

ZENIT: What reflections can be shared about the Gospel reading for that Sunday (Mark 9: 30-37), about Jesus foretelling his passion and death?


Bishop Conry: The Gospel reading is challenging. We observe that the disciples were unable to understand the meaning of Jesus’ story and the significance of his actions. Also we note that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was trying to say to them about his forthcoming passion but were afraid to ask.

It is the task of all the baptized to break open for others the meaning of Jesus’ story through their words, but also through the witness of their lives and service; «love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God» («Deus Caritas Est,» 16). 

It is also the task of the baptized to dispel the fear that might hold people back from asking about our faith; love dispels fear and the more we love the more people will ask questions. 

ZENIT: What about those people who will interpret this call to service as simply a call to «be nice to someone?»

Bishop Conry: It is very important to stress that the bishops are not inviting Catholics to just do «nice things» for other people. 

All baptized Catholics are called to a life of loving service, being ever mindful of the evangelistic opportunities that present themselves to explain the reason for their actions; as we read in 1 Peter 3:15: «Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect.» 

People should have no doubt that the reason for our loving service is because of our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, and we must look for opportunities to speak to people about Jesus. This makes our service distinct from that offered by non-religious organizations; the baptized are motivated by someone else — Jesus and love for his Church.

Service should be an evangelistic demonstration of faith and it should demand something of us: «Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. […] I must be personally present in my gift» («Deus Caritas Est,» 34). 

We are called to be «persons moved by Christ’s love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with his love, awakening within them a love of neighbor» («Deus Caritas Est,» 33).

ZENIT: How does the teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux feature in all this?

Bishop Conry: In response to this year’s Home Mission Sunday everyone is invited to do one new thing to witness to their faith through service. 

In support of the Catholic community, the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation is launching «Little Way Week» which will coincide with the departure of the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux from our countries. The week will run from Oct. 18 to Oct. 24 and is inspired by the saint’s teaching; the little way concerns doing small things every day out of love for God and neighbor. 

Posters, fliers, idea sheets for schools and even supportive «Little Way» text messages are available on the Web site. All the online materials are free as downloadable resources. There has already been a request from another European country to translate the materials for use further afield.

We are inviting parishes especially to get involved by doing at least one new thing to reach out to others through evangelistic service. Each parish is invited to come together at the end of the week as a community to celebrate and share their experiences. 

Some people may in turn feel called to volunteer with a Catholic organization longterm, and the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation is partnering with Caritas Social Action to support Catholics in that. In this way the week will have year-round fruits.

ZENIT: How significant is both Home Mission Sunday and Little Way Week for the mission in England and Wales?

Bishop Conry: They are both immensely important. The prayers offered on Home Mission Sunday are the foundation for everything else that follows. Little Way Week is the practical expression of that prayer. 

Both initiatives encourage Catholics to reflect on their response to the call to evangelize and to be renewed and resourced to witness to their faith. On Home Mission Sunday there is also an optional collection for the work of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation; the agency is partly funded by this, and relies on the parish and diocesan support.

We are a relatively small Catholic community in England and Wales compared to some countries around the world, but as the then Cardinal Ratzinger explained during the Jubilee of Catechists in 2000, now is the time «to dare once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow (Mark 4:26-29).»

Here is a passage from «Evangelii Nuntiandi» (No. 21) for reflection on this topic: «Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. 

«Take a Christian or
a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. 

«Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. 

«Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? 

«Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization. […] All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers.»

— — —

On the Net:

Home Mission Sunday: www.homemissionsunday.co.uk

Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation: www.caseresources.org.uk

Little Way Week: www.littlewayweek.org.uk

Caritas Social Action: www.caritas-socialaction.org.uk

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation