by Peter Jennings THE 13th National Conference of Priests of England and Wales ended today at Newman College, Birmingham, was the first opportunity for a representative gathering of priests to meet since the Pastoral Visit of Pope John Paul to Britain.
Using as their reference the Pope's homilies at Manchester, Cardiff, Canterbury, Liverpool and Coventry, more than 80 elected delegates from the twenty-one dioceses of England and Wales together with those from the Armed Forces, Universities and Seminaries, took as their theme Reconciliation.
Asked in a short interview for the Catholic Herald what he wanted to see emerge from the Conference, Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool replied: "A real commitment to follow up the work of Pope John Paul in bringing the Message of the Gospel to the marginalised and the lapsed."
The Conference theme is also the theme of the sixth General Assembly of the International Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome during the Autumn of 1983. Looking forward to this Synod on Reconciliation and Penance in the mission of the Church Archbishop Worlock said he hoped there would be a realization that Penance really means pentience or repentance. He said that what bishops and priests have to try to do is speak from their pastoral experience of how the Church can help people turn back to God in a profound and lasting manner.
On the Conference theme of Reconciliation, the Chairman, Fr Robert Spence, parish priest of St Augustine of Canterbury, Darlington, said that it was obvious that priests throughout the country were anxious about the present state of the Sacrament of Penance. M4ny were looking to the bishops to make the sort of direct pastoral contribution that Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock made at 1980 Synod on Marrage and the Family.
In his report to Conference Fr Spence emphasised that delegates could play an important part in making sure the papal visit was not just a sixday wonder. He said that the NCP had made a significantly helpful contribution to the National Pastoral Congress ar.d to the Papal Visit which had both opened up so many possibilities for priests to serve their fellow men and women.
Fr Spence ended a thoughtprovoking address by saying that it was an exciting time to be a priest but reiterated that without sincerity and hard work the Church in Britain would not move forward one iota.
In a forthright submission prepared for the Review of the National Commissions, the conference Standing Committee made it clear that "the Commissions as at present constituted were not very useful institutions." They had very little real authority and not many links with what was happening in the diocese. The Standing Committee went on to press for something much more in line with the National Pastoral Congress vision for the Church.