Fiorella Sultana de Maria
Stonyhurst College library really said it all. At one side, music played whilst young people in couples danced reels and waltzes. At the other end, small groups gathered around a makeshift bar, drinking beer and soft drinks. A little further along, some earnest-looking students sat around a table debating energetically with one other — the converts. This was the 2002 Faith Winter Session, where a motley group of diocesan priests and young Catholics had gathered to learn about Christianity and the Religions of the World.
I first heard about the Faith Movement during the media furore surrounding Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's "Christianity is almost vanquished" speech.
Whilst journalists debated just how bad the forecast for Christian survival in England was, few seemed to have picked up the hope the Cardinal had voiced about new movements within the Church such as Youth 2000 and New Faith.
He got the name wrong, but if last January's Winter Session was anything to go by, the Cardinal's hope for the future of the Church might be better founded than many realised at the time.
The Faith Movement was founded in 1972 by
Father Edward Holloway with the aim of reconciling the often conflicting forces of science and religion in the contemporary world. The ethos behind Faith was and is that there is no conflict between scientific discovery and revelation, that it is possible to unite the teachings of the Church with our increasing scientific knowledge and that ultimately, Christ is the masterkey that gives meaning to the material world in which we live.
This synthesis of science and religion is mapped out in Fr Holloway's magnum opus, Catholicism: A New Synthesis and promoted through activities such as the Winter and Summer Sessions and the publication of pamphlets dealing with a range of issues from the existence of God (written by a priest with a doctorate in astrophysics) to the Catholic understanding of marriage.
During these bi-annual sessions, young people aged between about sixteen and thirty are given the opportunity to attend talks, go to Mass, meet up with other young Catholics and take part in discussions. When so many Catholics my age have been denied a basic grounding in the faith either at school or in the parish, the opportunity to ask questions and discuss various aspects of Catholic Christianity is particularly valuable.
I have to confess that the mere murmur of the words "youth movement" is usually enough to make me run a mile — I have sat through talks pitched at the intellectual level of a five-year-old and youth masses where the priest bopped his way through the Credo whilst the congregation blushed with embarrassment — but the Faith Winter Session was a different kettle of fish altogether.
I didn't even run when a priest sang Nicole Kidman's Something Stupid during his talk. The experience was spiritually enriching, enjoyable, down-to-earth and most importantly, intellectually engaging.
The priests who spoke managed to walk the fine line between being too heavy going on the one hand and the temptation to talk down to the youth audience on the other.
I am particularly aware in an academic environment of the need for the .Church to engage with the intellectual and scientific debates of the present day. Christ commanded us to "love the Lord your God with all your mind", but all too often, Christian groups give the impression that intellectual engagement with matters of faith is dangerous and undesirable.
If the Church is to take its place at the centre of contemporary life, it must put across the message that Christianity is intelligent, dynamic and rational, the creed of scholars and scientists as well as mystics — and it maybe that the Faith Movement is just the mouthpiece that the Church needs to wake up the world to this message.
For more information about Faith and the next Winter Session, visit www.faith. org.uk