The twelve members of the C.M.S. are all pastoral priests seconded to the Society by their diocesan bishops. They serve for a period of roughly five years, living as a community, before returning to parish work. The Society has produced several bishops — Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop Dwyer. Bishops Holland and Langton Fox among them -and a bevy of notable priests.
At the invitation of a parish they descend upon it and for two weeks they apply their own brand of ecclesiastical rejuvenation to the local Catholic community.
17) URING the first week the C.M.S. priests visit all Catholic families. preparing them for a further week of prayer and instruction, They also call on the local non-Catholic clergy. In the second week there is a Mass every night. The themes vary: marriage. confession and an ecumenical night.
Last year the ten priests on mission work conducted nearly eighty of these missions as well as a series of priests' retreats. days of recollection, seminary retreats, school missions and talks to non-Catholics.
During the summer months the C.M.S. will sometimes arrive in a small village where Catholics are few in number. They hire a local hall and then invite everybody in the village— not just the Catholics—to come along. In one village recently with only 20 Catholics, 120 people attended every night. The local vicar was so impressed by the C.M.S. work that he afterwards gave the Catholics one of his two churches.
"I don't know what results these village mis sions achieve and to some extent I don't care," Fr. O'Brien says. "The important thing is that for one week the Gospel has been preached in a scattered area and we have fostered charity and that means God is there. The rest is up to Him."
Soon Fr. O'Brien and his colleagues will be organising Town Missions. These will be completely ecumenical with a service and instruction in every church every night. Pulpit swopping will be the order of the day and groups of Christians will visit houses inviting the non-committed to attend any of the churches.
THAT is one part of the C.M.S. work. Another is the Catholic Enquiry Centre which shares the buildings in West Heath Road. This is the department with the big business atmosphere, and big business it is.
Every year 24,000 nonCatholics write for the Centre's 11-part course on the Catholic faith. Advertisements—one of the imaginative range are illustrated here — in the national Press costing thousands of pounds bring in replies in their hundreds. And many people get into contact with the Centre through the "Personal Contact Cards" which the C.M.S. provides in many Catholic churches—though, sadly, not all parishes have so far gone out of their way to display them.
When the envelopes come in they are opened on the automatic opener, coded and filed. An envelope is addressed to the enquirer, the first information slipped into it and the package is automatically sealed on another machine.
Then the post office van arrives to take away sacks full of envelopes. Two days after sending off the application form the non-Catholic enquirer receives his first knowledge of the Catholic Church. Over the next eleven weeks he receives booklets about the Church and her teaching. Well written, down toearth stuff.
At the end of the course all correspondence is put into the shredding machine and shredded into hundreds of pieces: this honours the Centre's promise to destroy all evidence that anyone has ever approached them and to carry on their work in absolute confidence.
The Catholic Enquiry Centre costs £40,000 a year to run. The money is given mainly by well-wishers, but the enquirers pay not a penny. Half of those who show an interest in the Catholic Faith are women and half are men. More than 45 per cent of them are between the ages of 18 and 24, and some of the best advertising returns came from Radio Caroline and Radio London before they were outlawed.
How many of those who enquire eventually join the Church is not known. The Centre's task is to sow the seed. When they have gone as far as a postal course can go the inquirer is handed over to his nearest priest.
THE Director of the Centre is Fr. James O'Brien, as phlegmatically English as his Superior and namesake. Fr. Kevin O'Brien is ebulliently Irish. He runs the kind of organisation that most businessmen would be justifiably proud of. "This," he says, "is the Church's shop window, after all."
And as the Church's shop window the Catholic Missionary Society cer tainly keeps abreast of the times. It is constantly bringing its approach up to date. Its course for nonCatholics has been re-written three times in the past twelve years, the next issue of the C.M.S. magazine. the Catholic Gazette, will be re-designed, and the priests are continually bringing back new ideas from the parishes they visit.
The priests of the Society are the most optimistic bunch of men you could hope to meet. Perhaps they take their cue from their Superior. Fr. Kevin O'Brien says: "I am convinced that the Church is entering upon a most wonderful period. People's Faith today is being strengthened all the time. I've never seen anything like it."