Though smaller than it was at its height, the conference, from August 1 to 5, was peaceful and seemed perhaps friendlier, with participants appreciating the opportunity to meet face-to-face once again. Rather than going for the expense of a big top, the organiser Gary Stephens decided to move the main sessions into the Catholic Shrine itself, and a large marquee was erected to accommodate the overflow from the Church of Reconciliation.
About 650 people, including 15 priests, processed along the Holy Mile on August 3 to the grounds of the ruined Abbey, where the celebrant noted that he was standing directly on the site of the Holy House which had been constructed in the eleventh century. The pilgrims sat on the yellowed grass which had been scorched by the extended heatwave and listened to the call for a renewal of faith.
It was the 36th New Dawn conference, and the theme for 2022 came from Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy laden and you will find rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my burden is easy, and my yoke is light.”
A novelty this year was to have the youth stream led by two Americans. Mike Gaurino is the multi-millionaire president of a healthcare service comprising 3,000 independent physicians and his advice is sought internationally both on questions of healthcare and youth leadership. He has met Pope Francis on a number of occasions and also President Trump, who drew on his expertise during the pandemic.
By way of contrast, Justin Lantz from Florida came from a background of drug abuse but had a powerful encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist during a youth conference at the Catholic University of Steubenville in Ohio, and subsequently became a Catholic youth worker. Between them, the two Americans organised a lively and interactive youth programme, with lots and games and noise as well as food for thought.
In the adult stream Michelle Moran, former President of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, launched the conference and was followed by familiar faces such as Derek Williams and Niall McDonagh. Fr John Bashobora from Uganda led the reconciliation service and provided an international angle, as did Allegra Mutanda, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but now working as an evangelist in Winchester.
Dr Caroline Farey, who was one of three women experts at the Synod for the New Evangelisation, provided some academic input, speaking on how the Tent of Meeting in the book of Exodus prefigured the Virgin Mary. Damien Stayne, founder of the Cor et Lumen Christi Community, led a healing service and spoke from the heart about finding joy in the midst of grief, something he had needed to do when his wife Cathy died nine months previously.
The exhibition area was more modest than in the past but included tried and tested favourites such as Mary’s Meals, Divine Renovation and Good News Books. A scattering of smaller tents on the field opposite the shrine enabled workshops in the afternoon.
New Dawn in the Church has now birthed several annual daughter conferences internationally – in Scotland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Uganda and Zambia, and some of these are now larger than their parent. The vision of the conference which Myles Dempsey had in Ars, France, in 1985, continues to unfold.
Pictured above are the New Dawn pilgrims processing through the village of Walsingham. You can see a Flickr gallery from the conference by clicking on the link or the picture below.