By Traci Osuna
LONDON, England, SEPT. 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- For three days in mid-September, the Catholic faithful of the United Kingdom will join together to not only commemorate the first anniversary of Benedict XVI’s historical visit to their homeland, but to share with each other how his visit has affected their lives and deepened their faith.
In an interview with ZENIT, Clare Ward, the Home Mission Advisor for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, describes the festivities that will be taking place, beginning Friday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Sept. 18. She also conveys some inspiring stories others have shared with her, regarding how their lives have changes since the Pope’s visit last year.
ZENIT: How has the feeling among Catholics in the United Kingdom changed since the Holy Father’s visit last year?
Clare Ward: The Pope’s visit to the UK has had a deep and very positive impact on the Catholic community in England and Wales. Many people have shared that they have felt renewed in their faith and in their Catholic identity. During his visit, the Holy Father invited us to join him in public prayer and witness. In [recent] months, people have spoken of experiencing new confidence to share their faith with their family, neighbors, and friends.
To support this new-found confidence, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has been resourcing a legacy program called ‘Some Definite Purpose’ to enable and encourage people to continue to respond to Pope Benedict’s words. The program has included a wide range of activities in support of home mission: the collation of conversion stories, faith testimonies, multi-media mission resources, the organization of a conference to support people to reach out to non churchgoing Catholics and much more. The legacy program is framed by the content of the Holy Father’s UK speeches, homilies and addresses; it also integrates some of the teaching of Blessed John Henry Newman, who was beatified in Birmingham during the Pope’s visit.
ZENIT: What kinds of festivities are planned for the celebration?
Clare Ward: To mark the anniversary on Sept. 17, families and parishes are being invited to gather to celebrate, perhaps sharing a meal together … a prayer time, photographs and their favorite memories.
Sept. 18 is Home Mission Sunday when the Catholic community will pray for, reflect and support the work of evangelization in England and Wales through … an annual collection. In the afternoon of Sept. 18, a national Mass of Thanksgiving is being celebrated at Westminster Cathedral, which will be con-celebrated by the Bishops of England and Wales.
Also coinciding with the anniversary weekend, on Sept. 16, is the re-establishment of the practice of Friday Penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity.
ZENIT: What has been the response to Bishop Kieran Conry’s video request for the public to share their personal experiences since the Pope’s visit?
Clare Ward: Over the summer, there has been a very encouraging response…We’re currently collating a selection of them to publish online. By means of a snapshot:
Paul from Plymouth wrote: “It was a wonderful experience for me. The silence during the consecration was amazing, I shall always remember that. It reminded me of Christ feeding the five thousand when I am sure it too would have been a similar experience.”
The Plummer family from the South West of England shared: “The beatification of Cardinal Newman was moving, and the Mass was beautiful. Particularly humbling was the sight of the streams of priests coming out to minister communion to us all. The event was the wonderful, uplifting, rejuvenating and strengthening experience we had hoped it would be. It affirmed our identities as Catholics.”
James Finnegan (16) from Liverpool: “Being present at this momentous occasion marked a real spiritual awakening in my own heart and instilled a …sense of pride within me about my Catholic faith. Upon returning to St. Margaret Mary’s Church in Liverpool, I was able to share this pride and joy with the Parishioners by way of delivering a speech to them about my experience at Sunday Mass.”
Clare from Weybridge shared: “As I reflect today, what made the Pope’s visit so special was the feeling of encounter, being led and encouraged to deepen our relationship with God and to recognize that God has a purpose and desire for everyone. The challenge for us now is to continue to seek that encounter.”
ZENIT: The theme this year for Home Mission Sunday is “Fresh Wind in our Sails.” How have you seen this come to fruition among the Catholics in the U.K. recently?
Clare Ward: Bishop Kieran Conry, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelization and Catechesis, is encouraging everyone to get involved and said: “One year [later], we are invited to reflect on and decide what comes next. Inspired by the Holy Father’s words and example, the Bishops of England and Wales invite you to put up your sails afresh and, guided by the Holy Spirit, seek new ways of sharing the joy of your faith every day.”
The ways in which people have given expression to their response to the Holy Father’s visit has been very creative and varied.
For example, a deacon in the north west of England has created an apologetics website appealing to faith and reason writing. Meanwhile, students and staff from St Dominic’s Sixth Form College in Harrow (London) have dedicated a week to faith in action in response to the Holy Father’s call …to be concerned with social justice.
The visit of the Holy Father inspired Alexander Claridge from Weymouth to respond to the Pope’s invitation to attend World Youth Day: “I came home from that trip and I felt something inside me had changed …I realize that there is so much more to being a Catholic and I can’t wait to see His Holiness again in Madrid, as I continue the exploration of my faith.”
In the Diocese of Middlesbrough more than 2,000 young people joined forces to celebrate their Catholic education focusing on the call to become saints. Pupils from [several communities] gathered for the Little BIG Assembly…a celebration that featured prayer, praise, song, dance, drama and personal witness. The event was organized as a follow up to the BIG Assembly that Pope Benedict attended in London when he met children from all over the country, reminding those gathered that God simply wants our friendship and he invites us to become saints.
The visit has also prompted national conversation about Church, society and social action as led by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), which has organized a series of events since last September. The events [were] …inspired by statements from the Pope’s visit on building a new culture of social responsibility. The first event, ‘A Common Endeavour’, was considered the first major step in a program to ‘re-imagine and re-invigorate’ the work of the Catholic community in England and Wales. The event brought together 180 delegates from across the dioceses, and other independent agencies and projects, who are engaged in broad range of social action.
Many other stories are emerging that testify to the fruits of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK. The graces being received are many and numerous. The visit was a remarkable experience and now we look to putting up our sails afresh to build on what was received.