Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Gaining students for Christ
I was given an overview of the state of Catholicism in universities across the north east of England yesterday. Mrs Richmond, the Chaplaincy Administrator, and I went to the biannual meeting of Catholic chaplains in higher education in the north east of England; Sheffield Hallam Chaplaincy hosted us. Lots of good things are happening. Students are keen to know more about the faith, but they want presentations to be interactive (and they always want food). The new video series "Catholicism" presented by Fr Robert Barron was described as "the best catechetical aid I have ever used with students" by one chaplain. In another chaplaincy, a rosary group is flourishing. Weekly Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Confession are being newly prized by this generation across the region. Retreats are happening all over the place, including Retreats in Daily Life, which have been pioneered by layman Stephen Hoyland at Loyola Hall and a very well-received retreat by Sister Anne Hammersley, cp, to Leeds University students in a large rented house in Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales (Sister Anne is the assistant chaplain at Leeds Trinity). Mrs Roberta Canning (below), the national coordinator for our sector, reported back from a recent congress in Rome about pastoral provision in higher education: the key document exhorted bishops throughout the world to make sure that they put sufficient resources into fostering students' faith and caring for them. It was good to hear. Compared to some of my brother clergy, it has to be said (and they do say it), I have quite a relaxed life. For example, I spent two hours this morning at Tea on the Landing chatting to a succession of pleasant young people; then I attended a guided meditation at lunchtime, led by Sister Anne, which left me feeling very rested and at one with the Lord; after that I had chicken and chips in the dining room with three journalism students who told me all about their forthcoming work placements; and I spent a good part of the late afternoon supporting our lads playing football and our girls playing netball. I am happily convinced, though, of the value of my ministry: if a young person discovers Christ at university, or deepens an already existing friendship with him whilst there, his or her faith is likely to endure. At the end of our meeting yesterday, Roberta very movingly asked us to pray for her former chaplain at Cambridge University, Fr Richard Incledon, whom she informed us, has recently died. How pleased he must have been that one of his former students was, in a lay capacity, making such a significant contribution to the new evangelisation in the university sector.