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Bishops of England and Wales outline mission on papal visit anniversary

Benedict XVI meets the bishops at Oscott College on September 19 2010 (Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

The Bishops of England and Wales have unveiled their future priorities in a message to Catholics on the first anniversary of the papal visit to Britain.

In the message, the bishops said that their priorities for “the next three to five years” related to three areas: “mission, teaching and witness”.

They said: “Integral to this work is recognising the importance of being confident, faithful and courageous in our mission, teaching and witness.

“Following the wonderful example Pope Benedict has given us, in our mission we must be gentle but also confident in manifesting the ‘beauty of holiness’, a beauty which can lead the heart of every person to an intimate knowledge of Christ.

“In our teaching, we must be courteous but also faithful in proclaiming the ‘splendour of truth’ through ‘the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness’.

“In our witness, we must be humble and open-hearted but also courageous in testifying to ‘the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ’.”

The bishops continued: “In respect of our mission, our first priority area of work will be: ‘To proclaim the universal call to holiness in Christ – by promoting a culture of vocation within the corporate identity of the Catholic Church, marked by a confident Catholic faith’.

“In relation to ‘teaching’, the second priority area of work will be: ‘To proclaim Christ and his Gospel as saving truth – by fostering and encouraging a culture of dialogue and solidarity’.

“And in terms of witness, our third priority area of work will be: ‘To proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God – by serving and witnessing to the whole community, especially by supporting marginalised and vulnerable people.’ ”

The bishops then named seven “aims and objectives”.

“We have re-established Friday abstinence as a common act of witness and of solidarity with those who are in need or suffer and as an expression of our vocation to follow Christ who sacrificed his life for the good of all humanity,” they said.

“We are actively encouraging lay Catholics to witness publicly to their faith with renewed confidence and to communicate a culture of vocation to a wide audience.

“We are creating a national vocations framework, offering discernment opportunities to all, not only to ecclesial vocations but also to marriage and other forms of lay witness.

“We will continue to encourage the programme we have begun of ‘deepening social engagement’ to bring greater coherence, support and visibility to the Church’s evangelising witness through the development of ‘Caritas’ within England and Wales.

“We will foster opportunities to ‘build bridges of friendship to other religions, to heal past wrongs and to foster trust between individuals and communities’ by building on the unique and inspirational encounter between people of faith and representatives of other religions which took place during the Holy Father’s Visit.

“We will work with other Christians and people of other religions to identify the areas of greatest need, at home and abroad, so that we can come ‘together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation’ and to work ‘together for the good of the community at large’.

“We will strengthen our communication of the work of the Church through the use of new technology and build partnerships with appropriate media outlets to build on the vision of the New Evangelisation for the transmission of the Christian Faith.”

The bishops concluded their message with an appeal to Catholics not to view the future “anxiously or fearfully, but with renewed hope and courage”.

They said: “In coming to the UK, the Holy Father ‘wanted first and foremost to support the Catholic community, encouraging it to work strenuously to defend the immutable moral truths which, taken up, illuminated and strengthened by the Gospel are at the root of a truly human, just and free society.’ He also wished ‘to speak to the hearts of all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, excluding no one, of the true reality of man, of his deepest needs, of his ultimate destiny.’

“We believe that the ‘beauty of holiness’, the ‘splendour of truth’ and the ‘joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ’ can still speak powerfully to the hearts of the people of our country. This is the inspiration for our work ahead.

“On this Home Mission Sunday, the anniversary of the Holy Father’s visit to our country, we renew our faith in the power of God to lead us all through the difficult times faced by our nation and by our world. Confidently Catholic, we look forward then not anxiously or fearfully but with renewed hope and courage. We invoke God’s blessing on our country and on our world.”