What is our vision? What is the vision of our Parish? I would say that our vision is not just a series of activities. Our vision is a Person, our vision is Jesus Christ. This is very important for us Catholics. Everything we do, organise or change has its reason in Jesus Christ.
We want to help people and ourselves to be on a Christian journey, that is:
to know Christ more,
to be on a personal path of conversion and
to be part of the Christian community that is in our Parish.
This is our goal and the centre of the new evangelisation.
Obviously this vision has to be applied to our situation and transformed in activities, actions, proposals... particularly in the following areas: 1) Sacramental preparation/Youth Groups, 2) Groups/Formation for adults, 3) Culture and 4) Charity.
Sacramental preparation / Youth Groups
In the Parish we run three age-based youth groups: for primary school children we have Stars of Abraham (from school year 3 to 6), for young people at secondary school we have Grail Seekers (from school year 7 to 9) and for teenagers from school year 10 till sixth form we have TOZ. The aim of these groups is to learn how to live as Christians.
Regarding the preparation to receive First Holy Communion and Confirmation, we believe that rather than proposing programs or a course with a beginning and an end, it is important to give children and teenagers the opportunity to being involved in something wider: an everlasting friendship with Jesus within his Body, the Church.
That's why if a child or a teenager wants to be prepared to receive First Holy Communion (and is at least in school year 3) or Confirmation (and is at least in school year 8) we will ask them to come regularly to one of the three groups according to their age. They will receive the First Holy Communion or Confirmation when they are ready (usually after one year).
The focus is not on the sacrament but on Christian life. The sacrament is part of this never ending Christian life.
Marriage Preparation will follow the same idea. The couples who come to get married are all different from each other. But they arrive with a very open heart. It is the opportunity for us to evangelise. That is why we want to speak to them about Jesus, the Church and the Sacraments (in 8 meetings throughout the year) and help them to know our community better (we will invite them to the groups that we have for adults).
For Baptism Preparation, alongside the Essential Baptism Preparation Session, there is the opportunity for the families to meet personally the priests (at lunch or dinner) and some adults of the Parish. They are also invited to be part of the Community.
The Sacramental Preparation for Adults (RCIA) follows the same logic.
Groups/Formation for Adults
In our Parish we have many different kinds of people: children, teenagers, parents, elderly and sick. It is nice to see all of them together at Mass on Sunday. Everyone is in a particular and unique stage of their human journey, and we have to address everyone in a way specific to them. That is why the proposal for a child has to be different from the one for a teenager or an adult.
In our community we are blessed with many adults, most of them with family life, hard jobs, a lot of responsibilities and joys. As a Parish we want to give special attention to all the adults, we want to nourish their Christian life, both as individuals and as families.
When I arrived I found a great number of groups to help adults to encounter the Lord and to have a community life: GIFT, Fellowship Group, Journey in faith with the Bible, Prayer Groups, CAFÉ, Oasis and others. They are all open to new people.
A new group started last year called School of Community, for all the adults who want to be helped by the Movement of Communion and Liberation in their Christian life.
In our society families face many challenges: it is difficult to find places where they can meet each other and be helped, the values that we receive from our society are often superficial or negative, the world changes so quickly that it is difficult to make decisions especially about children. To help our families we would like to offer first of all a Christian friendship. That is why the first Sunday of the month we will have the Get2Gether Family Afternoon in St Edwards from 2.30pm to 4.30pm. It is an event for all the parents, children, grandparents… During that afternoon we will have some music and games for all of the families, and also a little discussion with the parents about some topics of family life like education of the children, prayer in the family and so on.
Our community is very rich in volunteers, probably more than a hundred. They have a special place. Without them our Parish wouldn’t be as alive and vibrant as it is. Cleaning the Churches, arranging the flowers, helping the youth Groups, visiting the sick, singing in our choirs and doing many other activities, they offer their service for the Glory of God and His Kingdom. All of them help the mission of the Parish and of the Church. We would like this year to help them in their ministry. That is why we will begin a formation for all the volunteers of the Parish.
During the year we propose also Parish Retreats in Advent and Lent, open to everybody that will help all of us to prepare for Christmas and Easter.
In our society culture usually means what is specific to a country in terms of food, traditions, language, outlook, behaviour… But actually culture is something wider.
If we are in the Church it is because we have a personal relationship with the person of Christ. At some point in our lives we recognised that Jesus is with us, that He is the Lord. We started seeing things in a different way, belonging to a community with the constant view of the living God.
This happened to us and happened to millions of people before us. From the resurrection of Christ many people, because of their faith, have started having a deeper vision of life, understanding better the link between everything and finding with the help of the Lord answers to their questions.
Some of them touched by the living God have produced beautiful expressions in music, art, literature. Others have lived their lives totally fascinated by the beauty of God, we call them Saints. Other people even if not religious have grasped some truth that is valid for everyone.
All of this forms our Christian culture.
During this year we would like to suggest some music, novels and books about Saints. In this way we want to meet people who have lived their lives to the full, building the true culture.
That's why we propose our Cultural Fridays. For people who like classical music there will be the opportunity to listen to some great pieces of music inspired by faith. For those who love books we'll introduce every three months one novel and one spiritual book. It will be possible to buy the books after Mass.
It is difficult to give a definition of charity. The best way to understand it is to think about God. The life of God is charity, it is unconditional love. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are a perfect communion of love. And this communion of love is not closed in itself. God created the angels, the world and us to be part of this unity and when we abandoned Him He sent His Son to rescue us.
Therefore God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and His relationship with us both manifest the profound meaning of love and charity.
We are created in the image of God, so if we want to enrich ourselves we have to love, we have to imitate the love of God, the feelings of Jesus.
But how can we imitate this love? What do we have to do in practice? Love is nothing other then being always open to others, and this way of being can be summed up in one sentence: “Here I am!”
For example: if I meet a person who is against me and does not speak to me, if I do not avoid him, but I go and meet him, and I say: “here I am”, this is definitively true love. My negative feelings decrease and the feelings of Jesus become predominant within me.
We must not be worried if sometimes we have negative emotions, the important thing is love! Love makes me realise that there is something good in my neighbour and while my instinct sometimes tells me to run away, because I don’t want to meet that person, nevertheless I offer myself by telling him: "Here I am".
If I behave like this, slowly the love of Jesus becomes mine and the true charity is in me.
This way of being is natural in God. He always tells us: “Here I am”, He never abandoned us. But this charity is not automatic in us because of the original sin. We have to work on ourselves, to convert our heart and our instincts.
All of this helps us to put in practice and learn the charity of Christ.
In our Parish there are many activities in which we say our “Here I am” to the poor and needy.
We can say our “Here I am” supporting Charities with our money and resources. It is difficult to mention all the ones we help: CAFOD, MISSIO, FOOD BANK, TWO SAINTS, FLEDGE, POITIER…and many, many others. Some of them are supported by our entire Parish, or by one Church, or by some parishioners.
We can say our “Here I am” with activities that lead us to be in more direct contact with our neighbours in need. We have in our Parish almost 50 volunteers who take communion to the housebound. The Street pastors help the poor in the street during the weekend. Others volunteers visit the care homes around the Parish.
As we have said true love is not automatic, we have to work at it. Visiting the sick and needy, sharing a little of their life and putting in common a little of ours is the best way to learn how to love.
We would like during this year to put in place some Charitable Work, which will help us to learn how to love. With the children of the Stars of Abraham we want to visit some care homes to share the lives of the elderly in a simple way. The same will happen with the Grail Seekers. For the teenagers of Toz we are considering the opportunity of visiting periodically an institution of people with disabilities.
It would be good to be creative and have some Charitable Work for adults, simple moments of sharing our lives with people in need, done with open heart.
fr Raffaele (parish priest)