Incarnation and Pilgrimage

Youth Ministry in the Catholic Tradition

"I met a nun in the supermarket," and so began the pilgrimage of faith which led a young woman to be baptised and confirmed, along with forty others, at an Easter Vigil this year.

This story by Ruth Ward of Southwark diocese was just one of many positive examples of Catholic evangelism given at a conference on youth ministry within the Catholic tradition sponsored in Oxford on the 24th of June by the Archbishop of Canterbury's National Youth Advisor and attended by well over a hundred delegates representing a broad spectrum of Anglican Catholicism.

Throughout the day we were reminded that youth ministry is not the preserve of Evangelicals. Young people are increasingly alienated by a wordy Christianity which appeals to the mind alone rather than to all our God given senses. Our multimedia culture has brought an increased awareness of the value of Catholic signs and symbols in the work of evangelisation, and these are being borrowed by the youth culture just when they are often being jettisoned as unnecessary externals by many of those in the Church who want to make Christianity relevant.

Bishop Lindsay Urwin spoke of a group of young people whose candle lit protest march against the export of live veal calves revealed their deep reverence for creation. He reminded us that the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation teaches us that matter matters and that these young people were, in his words, Catholics without knowing it, calling on us to teach them the Catholic faith.

Father Stephen Cotterell from Wakefield pointed to the Road to Emmaus as a basis of Catholic ministry in which we make contact with people where they are, walking with them in the direction they are going, until that moment of their conversion when they encounter the living God in the breaking of bread. Catholic incarnational ministry can meet young people where they are by giving them an experience of Christ rather than information alone and by emphasising the sacraments for bringing Jesus to the youth of this land.

Father John Heidt of Cheltenham pointed out that young people are more natural; they have not yet been denaturalised by Puritanism or Secularism. They know that humanity is a good thing and can become excited by the fact that God became man.

Father Martin Warner from Walsingham spoke to the conference about his very encouraging experience of combining youth ministry and pilgrimage, emphasising that we must be  confident in our liturgical action as part of the process of evangelisation. Pilgrim centres must be places of sacramental reconciliation, places for the marginalised, places for renewal.

The conference ended with a call for Catholics to break out of the ghetto mentality and to be a confident people of God active in His world and working towards the conversion of the Church of England to the fullness of the Catholic Faith by once again youthfully rejoicing in our Catholicism.

Brian Wheelhouse St Stephens House Oxford

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