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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Stirring talk by Bishop O'Donoghue

This afternoon, Bishop O'Donoghue spoke to 200 young people gathered at the Faith Summer Session in Woldingham. His talk combined personal reflection on his own life as a priest and bishop, with the courageous honesty for which he has become renowned as a result of the Fit for Mission documents issued during his time as Bishop of Lancaster.

The Bishop structured his talk around the theological virtues, taking hope first, followed by faith and love. As an example of hope he told the inspiring story of Cardinal Van Thuan and his 1001 handwritten messages clandestinely circulated to the Catholics of Vietnam while he was under house arrest far from his diocese.

He spoke bluntly about the culture in which the young are growing up:
In a society that promotes so called tolerance and respect for cultural diversity, anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice. The Holy Father, like Pope John Paul the Great before him, is regularly the object of poisonous ridicule and vilification that would not be acceptable against any other religious leader.
In response to hostility and intolerance, the Bishop called upon the young people to seek the plan that God has for their own life and not to be afraid to bear witness in public life. To illustrate the virtue of faith, His Lordship told the story of the eleven year old Chinese girl who came to a desecrated Church every night and picked up from the floor with her tongue each of the thirty-two hosts that had been cast on the floor when the tabernacle was broken into. On the last day, she accidentally woke the guard who killed her with his rifle butt.

He encouraged the young people to hold fast to the faith, both through the adherence of personal fidelity to Christ but also in fidelity to the teaching of Christ as expressed in the magisterium of the Catholic Church. As he said:
The Church is the living 'chain of believers'. I ask you young people, I encourage you, I exhort you, I entreat you - as an older and, dare I presume, wiser link in the 'great chain': listen to the Church! Follow her ways! Make her teachings your own! The Church speaks for Christ; she carries his words, words of eternal life.
Speaking of love, Bishop O'Donoghue drew upon the example of St Therese of Lisieux who persevered in the love of God despite the appalling spiritual darkness that she experienced near the end of her life. He drew out how her longing for the face-to-face encounter with Christ in heaven shows us the importance of devotional practices such as the Rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

His Lordship referred to a passage in "Fit for Mission? Church" and the extraordinary response which it received in the Church in Britain, the section listing various ways in which people "forget they are Catholic". He expressed surprise at the reaction it generated "because what I wrote is nothing more than what our Church teaches." He reminded us of the list that he had written and then also transformed it into a list of things that will not be done by the one who loves.

Anna Marie Treloar, a medical student who is chairing the conference, thanked the Bishop for his warm and inspiring words, and Fr Roger Nesbitt, the "elder statesman" echoed the thoughts of the priests present in his appreciation of Bishop O'Donoghue's leadership, especially through the Fit for Mission documents.

It really has been great to have Bishop O'Donoghue with us. He has taken the time to spend three days at the conference, and has participated in all the different activities and discussions as well as celebrating the Mass this morning. He has spoken warmly of the joy of seeing so many young students who are enthusiastic about their faith and it has been great to have his fatherly presence with us.
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