The Catholic bishop serving one of the largest geographical areas in England and Wales, Bishop Mark O'Toole, has presented his vision for mission and outreach posing the sobering question, "Would it make any difference if our Church wasn't there?"
Written to coincide with the first anniversary of his episcopal ordination, Bishop O'Toole's Pastoral Message reads, 'A sobering question to ask ourselves is, "Would it make any difference if our Church wasn't there?" We need to focus our efforts reaching out to three groups: those who are practising, to help them see the place of evangelisation in their lives; secondly, those who are non-churchgoing Catholics, i.e. those who for whatever reason have given up practising their faith; thirdly, those who do not believe and who are un-churched… I think the time has now come for us to more concretely frame how we are to try and put this into practice in our situation. We are all being invited to move from ideas to concrete reality."
He added: 'I believe there is a tremendous opportunity in this diocese… We need to be courageous. We live in a time when Europe has in many ways become tired of its Christian roots. Yet we are so fortunate to have within our particular history the example and witness of one of the greatest evangelisers the Church has ever known. St Boniface, our Diocesan Patron, should in many ways be the Patron Saint of our Evangelisation efforts."
Bishop O'Toole presented his vision to 140 clergy and close to 200 lay people at two recent diocesan gatherings in Buckfast Abbey and Torquay. His Pastoral Message is themed, "It is the Lord" and begins with a reflection on the story of the disciples casting out their nets for a catch in response to Jesus' invitation to them to do so ( John 21: 1-9). The bishop invites Catholics to make the foundation of their response to the call to evangelise their personal relationship with Christ and he also includes in his Letter:
- The call to re-read Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium"
- A summary of key elements of the New Evangelisation
- Mission Statement
- Concrete ideas and practical suggestions to build on the good work already being done in the diocese – with an emphasis on forming parish evangelisation teams
- An encouragement to participate in the Bishops' Conference Proclaim 15 initiative
- Personal reflection drawn from his own ministry and encounters with local people and evangelisers
A significant event announced in the Letter is the forthcoming visit of the relics of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, on 15 – 20 May 2015. He said: "They are the first parents of a saint to be beatified, and the the first spouses in the history of the Church to be proposed for sainthood together. Zélie and Louis are an inspiration to the families of today… Devout Catholics, they saw Christ in the poor and worked for a just society."
The Letter ends: 'I challenge myself and you to "go out" … And let us never, never, forget that the Lord accompanies us. When we doubt, when we are challenged, when we are asked, "why do you do this...." Let our answer be, "It is the Lord....It is the Lord.""
The full Pastoral Document can be downloaded here.