Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Pastoral letter to mark the opening of the Year of Faith

To be Read in all Churches & Chapels of the Diocese On Sunday 7th October 2012

My dear brothers and sisters,

Anniversaries serve as milestones along the path of life, dates which remind us of the great gifts of God. On Thursday the Catholic Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church as one of the greatest fruits (cf Porta Fidei n. 11) of the Council.  We will be marking these anniversaries with a mid-day Mass at Shrewsbury Cathedral to which all are welcome. Pope Benedict, however, invites us to keep these two anniversaries not for a single day, but for an entire year. The Holy Father has called us to celebrate, a “Year of Faith” beginning on 11th October this year and ending on the Solemnity of Christ the King next year. This is not meant to be an exercise in nostalgia but an opportunity, in Pope Benedict’s words “to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” (Porta Fidei n. 4).

I am conscious that whenever I mention the Second Vatican Council, a significant part of every congregation is too young to remember this event of the early 1960s. It is, of course, difficult to encompass in a few words so vast an undertaking which gathered all the bishops of the world with the Pope in continuous prayer and meetings across the course of more than three years. And it is important that we do not confuse such a Council with the politics of a “church parliament” or with the short-lived optimism of a past decade. Pope John, now Blessed John XXIII, made clear that he had a lasting purpose in calling this Council: he desired above all that the assembled bishops would find ways of both guarding the truths of our faith, and teaching them more effectively amid the rapidly changing circumstances of our time.

Blessed John urged the bishops not to listen to “prophets of doom” who saw little hope for the Church’s mission in the contemporary world. He expressed the hope that the Council would be a new Pentecost, and confirm us all in faith and encourage us in our mission in the world. At the beginning of Advent, I will circulate a prayer card of Blessed John XXIII’s own prayer for the Council which beautifully expressed this hope: “O Holy Spirit, renew in our days your miracles as of a second Pentecost, “ Pope John prayed, “and grant that Holy Church, reunited in one prayer, more fervent than before, around Mary the Mother of Jesus, and under the leadership of Peter, may extend the kingdom of the Divine Saviour, a kingdom of truth, justice, love and peace. Amen” (Prayer of Pope John XXIII for the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council).

We can understand why Pope Benedict invites us to celebrate this anniversary of the Council’s opening by “rediscovering the joy of believing and enthusiasm in communicating the faith” (Porta Fidei 7). This is certainly what Blessed John XXIII and the bishops gathered in council desired. I hope this year will be an opportunity to open anew the Catechism of the Catholic Church; in it we find the riches of the Council’s teaching and of the Catholic teaching of all time. We must know our Catholic faith if we are to be able to enter into dialogue with our contemporaries on an increasing range of questions. To take one example: the Scriptures speak this Sunday of marriage in the Creator’s plan “from the beginning,” and we are reminded how even the identity of marriage has become a contentious issue in our society today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church together with its Compendium and the recently published Youth Catechism (YouCat) will surely help us address the many issues of our time and to give a clear, confident witness to the beauty of the truth. So this year we will look at new ways of opening up the Catechism. On the diocesan website a programme will be offered for each Sunday of the Year of Faith which can also form the basis for homilies or parish reflection.

I have also asked parishes to look at new ways of giving public witness to our faith during the course of this Year.  The experience of Pope Benedict’s visit to our country continues to encourage us to give such public witness at a moment when faith is often being relegated from the public domain. I am very conscious, however, that the most important witness is already being given in your daily lives. May this year – marking the anniversaries of both Council and Catechism – help us in Pope Benedict’s words: “to profess the faith in fullness and with a renewed conviction” (Porta Fidei n.9).

With the assurance of my prayer for you,

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury