In response to the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium from Pope Francis on the ‘Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World’ and the development of ‘missionary parishes’, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW)launched Proclaim ’15, a programme for evangelisation. In July 2015 the National Catholic Evangelisation Conference in Birmingham brought together eight hundred leaders in parish evangelisation from across England and Wales. The conference, through a series of talks, discussions, workshops and stalls, provided guidance, skill development and resources for delegates to take back to their own dioceses and parishes.
In November 2015, Westminster Diocese held its own follow-on conference, Proclaim Westminster. More than 300 people attended, with 140 parishes represented. The delegates identified existing, enriching and evangelising work already undertaken in the parishes which would now become the basis for further evangelisation. Proclaim’15 focussed on five areas of activity: Prayer, Caritas, Faith Formation, Marriage & Family Life and other Evangelising works. Those attending Proclaim Westminster were asked to identify ‘Initiatives’ in these five areas, to take those ‘Initiative’ ideas back to their parish and to continue the process of asking, ‘What do we do well?’ What more can we do? Each parish was also asked to set up and develop an Evangelising Team to take forward the ‘Initiatives, and so progress the evangelising work of Proclaim in their parish.
To support the development of Evangelisation Teams, a range of resources where made available via the Westminster Diocesan Website, which included presentations from the Westminster conference. These resources complemented the additional Proclaim’15 resources from the Birmingham conference made available through the CBCEW website.
Through 2016, Parishes were asked to feedback on the number of Proclaim Initiatives that were being undertaken within the five categories. There was some variability in data and information provided, but the overall picture was that there has been a very active involvement in Proclaim across the Diocese with:
530+ Initiatives reported
From across 21 of the 23 Deaneries
Involving 120 parishes – that is 57% of all Parishes
Although a large amount of data and information has been received from the parishes, it does not cover the full extent of Proclaim activity as:
- Not all Parishes returned data but may have activities which would fall under Proclaim
- Some Parishes included existing activities alongside new Proclaim Initiatives.
- The same type of Initiative was sometimes included under different headings.
From those parishes that had priest representation at the Proclaim Westminster Conference, (22% of all parishes), came nearly one-third (31%) of all Proclaim Initiatives. This would suggest that support from the Parish Priest is a key factor in progressing Proclaim.
Faith Formation: nearly one quarter, 24%, of all Initiatives were connected with Faith Formation. Initiatives included parish Bible study, talks & presentations on aspects of faith using a variety of sources, Faith Sharing Groups / Small Communities, follow-on programmes for young people who were recently Confirmed, catechesis for adults, children’s liturgy, use of materials such as ‘Wednesday Word’, young people’s faith groups.
Prayer: Around 19% of Initiatives were related to Prayer. These included exposition of Blessed Sacrament with vigils and holy hours, lectio divina, ‘Door of Mercy’ events, pilgrimages, formation of prayer groups, prayer of Rosary and Divine Mercy, housebound prayer scheme, parish retreats, consolation services, prayers to support volunteers at night shelter, ‘open door’ prayer ministry, ‘days of prayer’.
Caritas: Initiatives also made up 19% of total Initiatives across the Diocese. These were varied and included, developing SVP groups, supporting refugees, ‘Mary’s Meals’, ministering to the housebound, working to reduce domestic abuse, supporting homeless centres, bereavement and crisis support groups, foodbanks, weekly drop-in cafés, club for people with special needs, talks from CAFOD, support for prisoners in the community, clothes banks, support for end of life care and carers.
Marriage & Family Life: there were relatively few Initiatives related to Marriage & Family Life, only 9% of all Initiatives. These included, house blessings, enhanced marriage preparation and enrichment courses, support for young parents, family lunches, family retreats, youth ministry, faith sharing for non-Catholic partners, children’s liturgies, teaching on theology of body and natural family planning.
Other Pastoral or Evangelisation Activities: was the largest type of Initiative making up 29% of all Initiatives. Inevitably covered a wide range of activities but with many directed specifically at ‘Evangelisation’ including development of premises to give better access and more open access to the church, welcoming of visitors to Mass, development of the parish website, youth groups, setting up of evangelisation teams, ‘Spirit in the City’, ‘Celebrate’-style mission, use of social media to inform people of events, invitations to public into church, distribution of Easter cards, refurbishing of bookshop, welcoming ministry, ‘Proclaim Sunday’ stalls showing parish activities, asking a friend to come to church, Easter street drama, Justice & Peace group, signposting to place of prayer on polling day.
Conclusion and Looking Ahead with Proclaim Westminster
Proclaim’15 has been a success across Westminster Diocese, with extensive engagement from parishes and a large amount of activity focussed on evangelisation. The work now continues through Proclaim Westminster, supported by a full-time Evangelisation Coordinator.
The priority will continue to be the development of Parish Evangelisation Teams, and an understanding of the process of forming ‘Intentional Disciples’. The five general areas of activity will continue to be promoted: 1. Prayer/ Worship/Liturgy, 2. Marriage & Family Life/Fellowship/Parish Community, 3. Faith Formation/Discipleship/Vocation, 4. Caritas/Ministry/Service, 5. Outreach/Evangelisation/Growth. The Diocesan Website will be key to keeping parishes informed of progress and to the signposting to resources, ensuring the continued success of Proclaim Westminster and the development of ‘Missionary Parishes’.
Dcn Adrian Cullen