Organised by Catholic Voices and the Word on Fire Institute, the conference on February 11 was held at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, attended by 1300 participants from across the country, including at least 20 from the Diocese of East Anglia.
Opening the conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “We must not forget the church’s history and the giants of faith on whose shoulders we stand. We should be mindful of those who have lived the Catholic faith before us and draw strength from them in handing on this great story.”
Brenden Thompson, CEO of Catholic Voices, said: “We want to help create another generation of lay Catholics who can put their faith into the public square with charity and clarity.
“During the pandemic, maybe we withdrew from sharing our faith but Catholic Voices wants to partner with you to share the church’s story really powerfully.”
The keynote speaker was Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Bishop of Winona-Rochester, USA. He reflected on the role of laity in evangelisation and the importance of poverty, chastity and obedience to all Christians.
Using the example of St Thomas More, who gave up power and wealth as King Henry VIII’s chancellor to stay true to Christ, Bishop Barron said, “We should live in a spirit of detachment from the worldly goals of wealth, honour, pleasure and power.”
“Chastity challenges us to break out of the black hole of egotism… We should lead our sexual lives in an upright way – to truly love is to will the good of the other,” said Bishop Barron. The call to obedience is the hardest call, said the bishop: “You must realise that your life is not about you. Your life is to surrender to God’s purposes. Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God. In every moment of your day you should follow the path of love – willing the good of the other. God is love and that is all he is.”
A discussion about how the church can tell its story in a post-religious world followed, moderated by Justin Brierley from Premier Radio with Bishop Barron and award-winning historian, biographer and broadcaster Tom Holland.
Talking about his best-seller, Dominion, Tom explained his belief that, in a society that has become increasingly doubtful of religion’s claims, so many of its instincts remain irredeemably Christian. “Christianity’s enduring impact is not confined to churches. It can be seen everywhere in the West: in science, in secularism, in gay rights, even in atheism. It is – to coin a phrase – the greatest story ever told. And Jesus is the greatest story-teller of all time.”
Bishop Barron said: “We should confidently proclaim our truths and not go cap-in-hand for society’s acceptance. The endurance of the Church and the fact that we are still here is an enormous encouragement to me.”
Tom added: “Christianity survived the implosion of the Roman Empire and comes to the fore in times of war and plague. It is the most successful human attempt to explain the meaning of life and the universe and gives us a future hope.”
An afternoon workshop examined the topic of Evangelisation through the works of CS Lewis and JR Tolkien. In it, Dr Michael Ward and Dr Holly Ordway explained how both authors faced tragic personal circumstances and the horrors of fighting in the First World War which challenged their faiths, to end up with academic careers at Oxford University.
Both Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings display different approaches to telling the Christian story and to evangelisation in literature, but both provide great resources for evangelists.
Rebecca Bretherton, one of around 20 delegates from the Diocese of East Anglia, said, “ I sat with Catholics from other parts of the country who shared their enthusiasm for the Gospel message with me. Bishop Barron reminded us that the Second Vatican Council called all Catholics to step out into the world with our extraordinary story of God’s love. We can do this by telling stories. All the speakers told stories about their own faith in Christ. They encouraged us to be confident to tell others our personal experience of Christ in our lives.”
Content from the conference is due to be published soon. See websites below for details:
Pictured top Bishop Robert Barron (left), Justin Brierley and Tom Holland in discussion at the Sharing the Church’s Story conference. Picture courtesy of Catholic Voices.