Developing faith fit for modern challenges
THE Passionists have a tradition of exploring the relevance of faith in a modern context, and since 2012 have hosted a summer institute at Tobar Mhuire, the retreat set in beautiful Co Down countryside at Crossgar, to focus on a particular aspect of that challenge.
For this year's Summer Institute, which takes place from June 21 to 22, the Passionists have taken up the task of exploring the struggle many people and parishes have in presenting faith as something real, relevant and rooted in everyday life.
"In times past, faith was something that we took for granted in Ireland, and the church was central to the fibre of our society," said Brian McKee from Tobar Mhuire.
"However, times and circumstances have changed, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
"Today, the person of faith is the one who swims against the tide of public opinion, and the church is but one of many voices seeking to influence the life of this community for the good."
This leads people of faith into situations in which they are often "signs of contradiction and of hope in a world that is becoming increasingly fractured by pain and division," said Mr McKee.
"Such a task often leaves us overwhelmed, especially when something as intrinsically precious to us as members of the faith community is often scapegoated for the many ills of society, or is rejected by those who are also precious to us," he said.
Faith development of the sort that many people will have been given is largely ineffective for the believer faced with contemporary challenges.
"It was often aimed at developing meek obedience to authority rather than critical reflection of our lifestyle choices and the structures of the faith community," said Mr McKee.
"Such processes of faith development are no longer fit for purpose, but we need new models and ideas urgently."
That explains why the theme of this year's Summer Institute is 'Spread the Good News - The Urgency of Adult Faith Development'.
The keynote speaker for the two-day conference is Professor Eamonn Conway, a priest of the Tuam diocese and head of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.
Among the challenges to be taken up during the conference are those of nurturing people in the living out of the gospel message and ways of building people and communities of faith.
Prof Conway has served as president of the European Society for Catholic Theology and as president of the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology.
In 2012, Pope Benedict appointed him as an expert adviser to the XIII World Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.
The Institute is open to individuals, but particularly welcomes parish representatives and all those engaged in faith development in schools and parishes.
- The Tobar Mhuire Summer Institute takes place on Thursday June 21 and Friday June 22. More information at www.tobarmhuirecrossgar.com or by telephoning 028 4483 0242.