From The Revd Prebendary Sandy Millar Sir, I was sorry to read the feature article about Catholic Alpha in your issue dated October 1 which could only have given some of your readers a misleading impression of Alpha.
We are privileged to work with Catholics all around the world and have found Catholic leaders — whether cardinals, archbishops, bish ops, priests or lay leaders — to be overwhelmingly positive and encouraging where the Alpha course is concerned.
Whenever we have spoken at Catholic conferences, it has always been at the invitation of the Catholic church and words of welcome to delegates have so far been written or spoken by Cardinal Hume, Archbishop Patrick Kelly, Bishop Ambrose Griffiths, Bishop David Konstant and Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue among others.
They recognise that the course is a simple presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ, aimed primarily at non-churchgoers, many of whom have little knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that it is designed to be a practical introduction to the Christian faith. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, describes the course as "a return to the fundamental things of the Christian faith".
Each parish will use its own follow-up material. PostAlpha Catholic teaching resources are provided by the Catholic Alpha office and these are being used by many Catholic parishes (particularly Father Raniero's post-Alpha talks).
I hope your readers will examine for themselves the contents of the Alpha course as set out in the book Questions of Life. They will see for example that the teaching on the Church is not at all as suggested in your article, but presents the Church as the people of God, the family of God, the body of Christ, a Holy Temple and the Bride of Christ. These are also the central images of the church used in the Catechism of the Catholic church (see para 781 onwards).
We are grateful to be working in partnership with so many Catholics in the work of re-evangelising our nation. Writing of the Alpha course the Catholic journalist Clifford Longley wrote in The Daily Telegraph, "The reconversion of England...is suddenly almost believable." It would be tragic if the opportunity were to be lost because of misunderstandings.
Yours faithfully, SANDY MILLAR Holy Trinity Brompton, London SW7.
From Ms Sandra Swarbrick Sir, I have never written to a newspaper before, but feel I must take exception to the comments printed in your article on October 1, regarding the Alpha Course.
As a Catholic who has participated in and helped run several Alpha Courses I can speak from an informed position. For me, being involved in an Alpha Course meant that for the first time in my life I discovered I could have a real, living relationship with God. A relationship that is based on prayer, bible study and using the gifts and talents that God has given us all.
If this is why the Alpha Course is feared then God help the Catholic Church and all its members.
Yours faithfully, SANDRA SWARBRICK Berkhamsted, Herts.
From Dr M M Heley Sir, Reading the letters page for Catholic papers is rather like watching Wimbledon – with all the histrionics and self-righteousness of that essentially English occasion. Like most of my fellow countrymen, I am normally content to be a spectator, but occasionally my blood boils. Such a reaction was induced by the arrogant, patronising letter of the chairman of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice regarding Catholic Alpha courses in (C.H 8.10.99).
Mrs McLeod and her allies are trying to denigrate, and dissociate the Church from, the most exciting Christian initiative of our age. In a Godless world, people are crying out for faith — people who have never been to a church, people who left a church for good or bad reasons. Surely Catholics should be first in the field, not muttering and sneering on the sidelines? To love and serve God, to know and to love Christ — these are what matter. We who have the great blessing of belonging to the Church which holds the Faith in all its fullness have the duty and privilege of sharing that Faith, but we have to start from where people are — this is what Alpha is all about.
Yours faithfully, M HELEY Ipswich, Suffolk.
From Mr Ian MacCallum Why does the Catholic Church insist on hiding its lights under bushels? I have just read two articles, side by side, in the Herald of October 1. The first by Bess Twiston Davies on Catholic Alpha, the second by Joanna Bogle on "contrived Community". I have to ask: where have these people been over the last 25 years or so?
Ms Davies quotes Fr Peter Gerald as claiming for Alpha that "... in a competitive world, it's the only one on the market." Rubbish, indeed this erroneous notion exists because many priests insist on clutching at straws.
My love for Jesus and for the Catholic Church, was awakened and has continued to grow in richness through two gifts which I have received from the Church. My wife Teresa and I were introduced to Marriage Encounter 20 years ago and I can truly say it was my road to Damascus experience. We have learned so much about the richness and depth of our calling to be a sacramental couple, witnesses to God's grace acting in and through the Church.
We have also discovered Cursillo, a movement for evangelisation that is totally Catholic and has its roots in Spain in the 1930's. The Cursillo course in Christianity gives its participants talks on The Sacraments, Faith, Lay Leadership in the Church, Christian Formation and Community as well as having Marian Devotion and various meditations. All the well loved Catholic devotions are brought to life and of course there is daily Mass and Reconciliation. The three day weekend is a real experience of community and what it means to be Church.
The Cursillo has given me a great enthusiasm and I hope knowledge of what it means to be a Catholic at the turn of the millennium, bringing my faith alive through study, prayer, the sacraments and the support of others who share the same love of Christ and his Church as I do. Over the years I have met scores of Catholics who have been renewed in their faith, be they lapsed, wishy-washy or fully committed, by the experience of a weekend out of this world, a weekend that changes lives by changing hearts.
Yours faithfully, IAN MacCALLUM Chippenham, Wiltshire.
From Mrs J Palmer Sir, With reference to your recent article about the Alpha Course Robert Williams states that "Catholics are not well instructed" and "a hungry man will go anywhere, and there is no real doctrine from the pulpit." This was certainly my experience. I was received into the Church seven years ago, catechised but not evangelised, I was told about the importance of the sacraments and of going to Mass but I had no real understanding of what the sacraments were and what the Mass was all about. It was not until I did an Alpha course in a Catholic parish that I heard, in language that I understood, who Jesus was, why he was crucified and rose from the dead. I also heard once more about the importance of prayer and was also given very good basic tips on how to start building up my prayer life.
Benefiting from the Alpha Course did not make me want to leave the Catholic Church but had the very opposite effect.
From being a one-hour-aweek Catholic on a Sunday, I immediately wanted to find out more about my faith.
The Alpha course changed my life: for me it was a gift from God. • Yours faithfully. J PALMER BerIchamstead.
We received many more letters on Catholic Alpha, overwhelmingly in its defence — Editor