An initiative of the Department for Evangelization and Catechesis, chaired by Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton Dioceses, the Forum initiative aimed to provide unique spaces for Catholic evangelists to connect with one another, pray together and be supported to take new steps.
In one of the keynote addresses at the Forum, titled 'New Perspectives on the New Evangelization', attendees were given an eye witness account of what happened and was said at the Synod on Evangelization which took place at the Vatican last October. Dr. Caroline Farey from the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham attended the Synod as a as a Lay Expert and was chosen to receive a Catechism from the Pope.
She said: "We start with ourselves. Do we know our own faith well enough? That was the whole focus of Porta Fidei, the the Year of Faith, 'lets go to the Catechism'… How is the heart ever going to know what is good if we don't use our mind to inform the heart? Don't let anyone say to you, 'don't worry about all that study, all you need is to get your heart united to Christ'. Yes, we need our hearts plunged in Christ… be led by Christ but let your mind be led by Christ through the Church so that your heart can follow what is actually good, and not just what is an awful lots of opinions of what must be good… The Catechism is there to help us."
Two Forums were offered – one for Priests and Deacons, and a second for lay people. Participants included representatives from diocesan and parish evangelization teams as well as representatives from the Ordinariate, CaFE, Wednesday Word, Nightfever, Couples for Christ, Jesus Youth, Ministry to Divorced and Separated Catholics, Cursillo in Christianity and Connect4Life, amongst others.
Bishop Thomas McMahon of the Brentwood diocese attended the Forum for Priests and Deacons, whilst Bishop Seamus Cunningham of Hexham and Newcastle dioceses attended the Lay Forum.
In his final homily, Bishop Cunningham said: "Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are all called to be sharers in the priesthood of Christ and this means that each and every one of us has got a vocation, and that vocation is to hand on the gift of faith, to pass on the Good News. In other words we are called to evangelize. But if we are to evangelize we must first of all be evangelized ourselves, in other words, we must have entered into a deep and personal relationship with Christ, we must get to know him and not just know about him, experiencing his love and his power in our lives. How do we enter into that relationship with Christ? We do so above all through prayer, through the sacramental life of the Church and especially through the power of the Eucharist."
The bishop added: "So we're called to evangelize but there is no need to be afraid – do not be afraid – because we are not going out there alone. We are empowered… That power is deep within us, ready to be released and it is released above all through the stillness and silence of prayer, the sacramental life of the Church and I'd like to emphasize the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, a Sacrament that is much neglected in the Church today and we are poorer as a result. The emphasis of course being, not on the ugliness of our sinfulness if you like, but on God's love and mercy and compassion."
The Forum program included the opportunity for prayer, Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and time for fellowship and discussion. Among the keynote speakers were: Fr Gerard Kelly, the only person in the UK to have an STL in the New Evangelization; Clare Ward, Home Mission Advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; Mgr John Armitage, Vicar General in the Diocese of Brentwood and Chair of the Catholic 2012 Olympic Committee; Michelle Moran, Member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Sr. Brenda Matterson DC, from the Hull Evangelization Project.
Joan Hampartsoumian attended the Forum from St Vincent de Paul's Parish in Osterley "The speakers' talks were inspirational and their passion for sharing the Good News I'm sure stirred up a fire in all of us," she said. "It certainly did in me. After listening to speakers for many years exhorting and encouraging us to evangelize it was electrifying to hear how parishes throughout England and Wales have been stepping out in faith and getting on with the job of doing it. It really felt as though we were on the threshold of 'the new springtime in the church' prophesied by Pope John Paul II."
The Forum initiative is part of the Year of Faith program that is being coordinated by the Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Desk.