The following Pastoral Letter was read in churches throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham at all Sunday Masses.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me
After many months of preparation the Year of Faith is about to begin. The Holy Father Pope Benedict will open the Year of Faith in Rome on Thursday, 11th October, which is the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Year of Faith is the universal Church’s way of celebrating these two important anniversaries and Pope Benedict will inaugurate it during the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the New Evangelisation. In this way he will emphasise that the Year of Faith is our opportunity to re-invigorate and re-focus our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ so as to bring his name and his message to the people of our generation and our society. Over recent months we have begun to review the focus of our mission in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. I am grateful to you for all the thoughtful responses to the recent consultation document.
Already thirty years ago Blessed Pope John Paul Il foresaw the need to make a new effort to bring the truth of the gospel to the coming generation. In 1983 he called for a commitment not of re-evangelisation but new evangelisation which would require from each one of us, lay faithful and ordained, fresh ardour, methods and expression.
That requires us all to rediscover within ourselves the joy of believing and to realise the power that comes from our loving friendship with the Lord. Friendship with Christ always changes the direction of our lives and it always entrusts us with the task of sharing our faith and love with others.
In his first Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. Pope Benedict reminded us: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Once we recognise the truth of that within our own lives we want to open up those new horizons and that new sense of direction for others to experience. The New Evangelisation always begins with Christ.
The Gospel of St Mark shows us some of the similarities between ourselves and the first disciples of the Lord. They listened to Our Lord's teaching about his own death and resurrection but they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him. For each one of us there are aspects of our faith that we do not yet fully understand and there are times when we are afraid to admit it. The Year of Faith offers us a way of deepening our understanding - especially through reflecting on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism.
New resources have been prepared in order to help us, season by season, to think about the central themes of the Council and to look in detail at the teaching of the Catechism. Doorway to Faith booklets will enable us to pray and reflect day by day on the principle themes of the Council and the Catechism. Diocesan Study Days are being provided and Workshops offered in every Deanery to encourage us to make the most of the wonderful opportunity that the Year of Faith brings to strengthen our faith and to become more effective as evangelisers.
I know that some of you may feel that the task of evangelising, sharing our faith with others, really belongs to priests, deacons and religious. But it is the Church's responsibility as a whole and the Church includes everyone who has been baptised. The gift of faith invites us all into a dynamic process. It means receiving, learning, reflecting, growing and communicating with others what we have ourselves received.
What we have received is nothing less than the gift of Jesus Christ himself and it is the Lord who personally sends us as his disciples into the world. He sends us with these reassuring words echoing from today’s Gospel: Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
It is in the Church's maternal nature to evangelise, to bring new children of God to life in Christ, and we have a definite part to play in this. The Church reminds us that evangelisation is an echo of divine communication and we want that echo to resound more clearly and ever more beautifully during the forthcoming Year of Faith.
On Sunday, 14th October there will be a diocesan celebration marking the beginning of the Year of Faith. I will be attending the Synod of Bishops at that time and Bishop David McGough (Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham) will represent me in celebrating Mass at St Chad’s Cathedral. I hope that as many of you as possible will be able to come and celebrate that Mass and to receive the Year of Faith pack that has been specially prepared for each parish community. I hope that you will also make use of the resources for the Year of Faith now available via the diocesan website.
I have placed the Year of Faith in the Archdiocese of Birmingham under the patronage of Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Passionist priest who helped Blessed John Henry Newman take those last sacramental steps into full communion with the Catholic Church. Through Blessed Dominic's prayers may we all find new ways during this Year of Faith to accompany others into the loving presence of Christ our Lord.
Many thanks to Peter Jennings for sending us the text and photo.