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Strong in Faith: Pope Francis is calling for the Church to ‘go outside itself’ and reach out to those in spiritual need. How can we put this into practice in Scotland?

A fortnightly discussion chaired by our Catholic university chaplaincies. Discussion 12: Pope Francis is calling for the Church to ‘go outside itself’ and reach out to those in spiritual need. How can we put this into practice in Scotland?

DAVID LUNDIE: My experience as a convert and a Legionary of Mary in central Glasgow was that most young people: a) want nothing to do with established religion because they associate Catholic and Protestant with sectarianism and bigotry, and b) have never considered the possibility that the Catholic Church would seek converts outside itself, or outside the Irish, Polish and Italian community. There is still a tendency for many in the Catholic Church in Scotland to not see themselves as fully Scottish. I have noticed that the same thing is not true here in Liverpool, which in many ways shares the same history of sectarian division, but here it seems they have put it truly behind them. I believe there are a number of reasons for this, but one of the key ones is that Catholics here feel fully English and part of the city.

ALAN McMANUS: St Francis refused to be militant, stripped himself of the rich garments of his inheritance and identified himself with the poor and marginalised. This is a Damascus moment for the Church in Scotland: time to face our own humanity and time to embrace that of others. This means taking risks, befriending people scorned by churchgoers and being concerned more with the painful truth of compassion than with spiritual pride and social reputation.


GERARD BONNER: David makes an excellent point. I too think that the ‘immigrant minority’ mentality among Scottish Catholics has hindered us from evangelising our country.

More generally, we should recognise that, despite the secularist bluster of a few, there are many people with a real curiosity about Catholicism, even as they float along as agnostics of some sort. Several conversations I have had with friends/colleagues in the last few years have convinced me of this. People are hungry for something more than relativism, even if they wouldn’t articulate it that way, and they are intrigued, perhaps downright puzzled, to meet people who actually hold the Catholic Faith. One of the challenges is that religion is viewed as an ‘awkward’ topic for conversation, but we need to get beyond our discomfort to share the ‘hope that is in us’ (1 Pet 3:15) with others—others who probably do not reject Catholicism, but rather some mish-mash of concepts they believe to be Catholicism.


CLAIRE MCCANN: Rev Stuart McQuarrie and Fr John Keenan are great friends and started the same year, so Glasgow University, the oldest University, which once was bigoted against Catholics, is a great way to start. I am going back a very long time though.


JULS TAPIA: Join the Legion of Mary. The spirit of the legion is of Mary Herself. We must ‘put on the whole armour of God.’ (Eph 6:11). Mary, who is bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array, comes to our aid in our apostleship, to reach other souls and bring them back to Jesus.


DAVID LUNDIE: Fraser makes an interesting point. As a convert from the Church of Scotland myself, I think this strategy has some limitations. As Fraser points out, the Kirk is ageing fast, and one thing we need to realise is that we are no longer evangelising in a Protestant country but in a non-Christian country. Even among Protestants, the traditional controversies which Catholic apologists had to focus on are no longer relevant to any but a tiny minority. The Church is supposed to be all embracing—it should be the default place people go when they want to hear the Gospel of Christ preached. Recognising that we are largely reading out to the unchurched, rather than the separated, allows us to preach that Gospel with simplicity. A too narrow focus on how our theology differs from a dwindling Protestant church’s will in my opinion only put off the majority who don’t much care for either.


GABRIELLE FRANCHI DE CAVALIERI: I think that one way of doing this is to ‘invest’ more on young people otherwise the number of people in spiritual need will just keep increasing. How many parishes in Scotland offer specific and constant opportunities for young people to develop their Faith? Probably, in my opinion, not enough. The humble and successful work that Fr John Keenan is doing at Glasgow University should be, more or less, ‘copied and pasted’ in other parishes.

GERARD BONNER: I think David is right that we are evangelising a non-Christian country. Ironically though, some more apologetics as of old would not be a bad thing, not to focus on how we differ from Protestant communities but rather to help us present the fullness of the Faith. Many non-Christians’ vague ideas of Christianity are a mix of sola scriptura, ‘are you saved?’ and just enough knowledge of Sacraments and the Pope to confuse them further. What I mean is, if you were to take the lowest common denominator of even just Catholic, Presbyterian, and Anglican beliefs, there is no way that could be convincingly presented. Christianity needs the Sacraments, Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium and so on to fully make sense. As David says, the Catholic Church should be the default place to go for the Gospel and we need to be offering people the ‘whole package.’ I agree with Gabriele too—and if that were done, it wouldn’t just be the young that would benefit.


Next week: How can we as Catholics get across the equal does not necessarily mean the same?  Have your say at http://www.facebook.com/scostronginfaith



Reaching out in Faith to all those who are in need


Given recent events, the Church in Scotland is, in some ways, on the defensive. But we can see from the Acts of the Apostles that being on the defensive does not mean that we cannot preach the Gospel or reach out to others in their need. Indeed, quite the opposite.

As Pope Francis has said, it is only in going outside ourselves that we will have life; a Church that does not go outside itself becomes managerial not Apostolic. So how do we go outside ourselves? It is essentially about reaching out with faith to those in need. And who is in need? Well, just about everyone.

No one who walks through one of our cities on a Saturday night can doubt that there is a real spiritual vacuum that is waiting to be filled. It is only by going out to those in need that we will be able to take the Gospel to them.

How do we do this in practice? There are many different ways but all involve everyone in the Church playing their full role. The Legion of Mary and the Society of St Vincent de Paul are just two (very different) examples that we have mentioned over the past few months, and which involve laity working in close cooperation with the clergy.

Many in Scotland today are spiritually lost and trying to find somewhere they belong. Many converts to Catholicism describe the experience as ‘coming home’ but how much effort do we actually put in to making others know that they would be at home here? would we even make them at home?

The challenges the Church in Scotland are an opportunity to truly go outside ourselves and proclaim the message of Christ with faith, hope and charity. The world is hungry for truth and love. In God we have the fullness of each. The task He has given us ids to take Him out to the world!

As Pope Francis (above) said in his Chrism Mass homily: “It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to put out into the deep, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is unction not function and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.”


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