BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE LEADER of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has unveiled his plans for the spiritual renewal of the country's most important diocese.
Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Cormor, Atchbishop of Westminster, has announced he is to import a three-year programme of evangelisation and renewal from the United States.
The programme, called Renew, has been designed to reinvigorate and build up the Church through small groups of parish-based, "faith-sharing" communities, which resemble the new movements that have developed in the Church since the Second Vatican Council.
Each parish in the Archdiocese of Westminster will give Catholics more opportunities to discuss and study scripture, develop their communal prayer life, deepen their knowledge of the faith and to even go on retreat together. The overall aims are to bring about "renewed faith in Jesus Christ, to invite people to hear afresh the message of the Gospel, and to promote Gospel values in society".
The cardinal revealed his plans to some 400 priests of the diocese assembled at Butlins in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, this week. He was joined by Fr Tom Kleissler, a New Jersey priest who founded Renew and who spoke on "A Call to Spiritual Renewal"; by Michael Brough. international director of Renew, who gave a speech called "Spiritual Renewal for the 21st Century", and by Fr Joe Creggan of the Diocese of Dunkeld, Scotland, and Fr John Gates of the Archdiocese of Armagh, both of whom have implemented Renew in their dioceses.
"I promise you that the fruit of our endeavour will be rich in blessings not only for us but also for those who will see and understand the Good News of the Gospel by the way in which they see us live it," said the cardinal ahead of the event.
The initiative is a response to Novo Millennio Ineunte, an Apostolic Letter by Pope John Paul II written at the end of the last Holy Year, the Jubilee of the Year 2000. In the letter, the Pope set out his vision for the Church of the future, outlining the immediate challenges of fidelity, holiness and evangelisation. "A new apostolic outreach is needed," he wrote, "which will be lived as the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups".
Sources in Westminster say the cardinal has made spiritual and pastoral renewal of the diocese his primary goal during his archiepiscopate. He also has first-hand experience of Renew since he introduced it to the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton more than a decade ago when he was bishop there. His latest initiative was preceded by a consultation process involving the priests of the archdiocese, most of whom expressed an "overwhelming desire to implement the process of pastoral and spiritual renewal", according to an archdiocesan spokesman.
A core group of priests was then formed by the cardinal and sent on a fact-finding mission to the US. It reported back that it favoured Renew out of two possible programmes, the other being Disciples in Mission, run by the Paulist Fathers.
Renew is said to have been a success in 21 countries, including five Irish dioceses, 130 US dioceses and every diocese of South Africa.
The actions of the cardinal reflect the renewed commitment to evangelisation by the English and Welsh bishops.
Significantly, they published a report in August which recognised the success of the new ecclesial communities in the area of evangelisation, an issue which is also expected to be high on the bishops' agenda at their biannual meeting later this month.
The Bognor meeting was also addressed by Belgian Cardinal Godfried Darmeels, who spoke on the "Church in Europe", and by Jesuit Fr John McDade, the principal of Heythrop College, London, who spoke on "A Priesthood for the 21st Century".