Faith and Life: The challenge of bringing the light of Christ to the world
The Diocese of Down and Connor's fifth annual Faith and Life Convention was a reminder Church is not about bricks and mortars but people, says Jim Deeds
THE word 'Church' was never meant to refer to bricks and mortar alone. Rather, it was originally a word that referred to the gathering of the people.
In Our Lady and St Patrick's College in Knock, east Belfast at the end of last month there was a gathering of the Living Church for the Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor's fifth annual Faith and Life Convention.
Conceived as a way for people to delve into how to live their faith in the nuts and bolts of everyday life, the event has become a firm fixture in the calendar for many in the diocese.
With a mix between a good keynote speaker, a panel discussion, a range of 20-plus workshops and a chance to visit an exhibition space with over 30 organisations represented, previous events have certainly been vibrant. This year was no exception.
The keynote speaker, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, from Honduras gave us a wonderful insight into the thinking of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Maradiaga is one of Pope Francis's so called 'C9' - the nine cardinals who make up his closest advisers - and so is well placed to share his thoughts.
He described Francis as a Pope who lives a simple, prayerful lifestyle and who has eyes always for the people around him.
Cardinal Maradiaga told us one story of how Pope Francis held a dinner for the gardening staff at the Vatican, many of whom had never met a Pope despite having worked there for a long time.
He also challenged all of us who profess a belief in Jesus to find ways to reach out and communicate more clearly with the people and the world around us - the Church has a communication problem, said the cardinal, and is in need of speech and language therapy.
Following his speech, Cardinal Maradiaga took part in a panel discussion where questions from the floor included seeking advice on how to better serve the poor, how to communicate effectively with the media and how to pass the faith on to young people.
It was a joyful sight to see the delegates meet up with people from all over the diocese and beyond, sharing a plate of food and a yarn about how things are in their part of the world; the day is as much about this development and sustaining of relationships as it is about anything else
The 400 or so delegates took their lunch in the wonderful canteen of the college, served expertly by Angela and her staff who have honed their skills feeding the many hundreds of college students.
It was a joyful sight to see the delegates meet up with people from all over the diocese and beyond, sharing a plate of food and a yarn about how things are in their part of the world; the day is as much about this development and sustaining of relationships as it is about anything else.
After lunch the busy work of delivering workshops began. Each delegate had a choice of two workshops out of the 20 or so on offer.
It was interesting to note that the workshops on prayer and spirituality took almost half the delegates.
That said, there were also workshops on Brexit, gender theory, digital ethics, Oscar Romero and many more.
The day ended in prayer and song, with Bishop Noel Treanor's words ringing in our ears: "Let us not be deceived into living lives of desolation. God is in our midst.
"Let us discern how to lift and encourage one another so that we will be a light shining in the darkness."
As we bid farewell to each other it was clear that all had enjoyed a busy day.
It had been a day of wonderful sights. Best of all these was the sight of hundreds of the faithful all searching for where God might be leading us.
We heard words that consoled us. But we also heard words that challenged us. I'm sure many heard words that they didn't altogether agree with at times - that's how it goes in a faith community when many people gather.
The important thing is to be there and to be part of the journey.
Bricks and mortar are simple, but the church is the people and we are not simple; we are complex.
The Faith and Life Convention each year is an opportunity to come together in all our diversity and complexity to gather in prayer and discernment.
So, here's to a great convention this year - and the challenge of living out lives of love in the year to come, bringing the light of Christ to the world.
- Jim Deeds is assistant director of the Living Church in the Diocese of Down and Connor.