Some Thoughts For the Downhearted

It is easy to be gloomy about the state of the Church in Western countries at the moment. Indeed, too easy – some Catholics seem to glory in it. With every new allegation of some hideous crime of the recent past, and every suggestion of a further downturn in church attendance, there are sighs of enthusiastic ooh-isn’t-it-terrible…

So it is quite difficult to note that London Catholicism is somehow not just surviving but even thriving. Mass attendance figures seem to be doing more than merely holding steady, and the signs of hope and life include the recent development of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the young people who will be hurrying to Youth World Day in a couple of weeks’ time (I will be with a crowd of over 80 people from a group based in South London), and events such as the FAITH Movement’s Summer Session, and Evangelium, the weekend conference for Catholics in their 20s and 30s.

The FAITH Summer Session began in the 1970s and has now expanded hugely, so that there is now a separate gathering for younger teens and pre-teens, along with Family Days during the year, a Winter Session, and various Retreats and gatherings for theological discussion. The Summer Session takes place at school in Surrey – about half an hour from London by train – which is an attractive venue because it includes a swimming pool and beautiful grounds, all set in lovely countryside. The young people attending the Session will gather for daily Mass and a programme of talks on aspects of the Catholic Faith, along with morning and evening prayer, opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for Confession, and of course sports and social activities.

Your London correspondent will be visiting the Summer Session and sending you a report. Meanwhile, I’m busy blackberrying. And if you think that doesn’t have a Catholic angle suitable for this EWTN Blog, then you can think again. The blackberries will be turned into jelly, which will be sold in traditional style at the Towards Advent Festival of Catholic Culture, held at Westminster Cathedral Hall in November.

Blackberries are especially good in the south of England this year, because of the wet weeks we had in the early summer. Large and plump, they drop agreeably into my bowl as I gather them from the lane that runs along the back of our house. It’s not a very pretty lane – this is modern Britain, and I have to stumble over nasty stacks of junk and rubbish to get to the blackberrying part in an abandoned garden. But, once there with bees buzzing and birds chirruping under a blue sky, it’s very pleasant – and the funds raised from the resulting blackberry jelly will go towards the work of the Association of Catholic Women, which begins its Autumn programme shortly and will be planning educational projects for children, and a pilgrimage, and a training-day in Art and Music for teachers, and more…

The Towards Advent Festival is planned for Saturday November 19th: special guest this year is Mgr Keith Newton, of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, on “Joy and Hope in the Church”. There will be music from the Gallery Choir of Westminster Cathedral Choir School, the usual displays and exhibitions from a wide range of Catholic groups and charities and organisations, and a special celebration of the Beatification of John Paul the Great, with a film and a presentation by a youth drama group from Oxford. They produced a play on the theme of his life and message, which was featured by EWTN earlier in the year, and will be giving us a flavour of it.

And I’ve just received an invitation to a special Mass at Westminster Cathedral to mark the first anniversary of the State Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country – a ticket-only event which promises to be a memorable day. He brought us a message of inspiration which still glows.

We all know perfectly well that things in the Church in the West are at a difficult, even critical, stage, and nothing is going to get dramatically better in a great rush. But those who relish gloom had better get on with it now – because in the quiet way that these things work, things are keeping on going, and the summer of 2011 is bringing its own quiet harvest.