Last Thursday, I went to Coleshill near Birmingham for the AGM of the National Board of Religious Inspectors and Advisors (NBRIA). NBRIA is related to the Bishops’ Conference Department of Education and on behalf of the Bishops, I am its president. Delegates from many dioceses were present for the meeting. There was an excellent presentation from Dr Karen North of St. Mary’s Twickenham on the Transmission of Faith to the Young. She made some hard-hitting points, some of which you can read in the homily I gave on Friday at the Closer to Christ Thanksgiving Mass (see below). The AGM once again showed the faith of so many up and down the country and the real desire to offer the best Catholic formation to our young. Please pray for all our teachers and for the work of our Catholic schools. Meanwhile, here is part of what I said in the Opening Address:
“At this time, the world we live in seems very troubled and unsettled. We might think of the terrible war in Ukraine, the challenge of climate change and the cost of living crisis affecting the poorest and most vulnerable. Watching the news can be quite depressing. Yet, for us, this is Advent. This is a time when we pray for the renewal in our lives of the theological gift of hope. If at other seasons of the year we pray for deeper faith and love, Advent is the season when we especially pray for hope. By hope, we mean a personal trust in God and His providence, a trust that He IS going to act with power to change things and make them new, a trust that one day if we are faithful, He will bring us to the lasting happiness of heaven. In today’s world, hope is in short supply. Is it any surprise that in a world in which faith is in decline and love is growing cold, that there is a lack of hope? Yet hope is what gives human beings a spring in the step, what gives us joy and perks us up, what gives us ambitions worth living for. As Christians, according to the 2021 Census, we may now be a minority in this country, 46%, with almost 38% saying they are nones, people of no religion. But even so, it is surely our responsibility to be a creative minority, sharing with others our hope, to be a leaven in the dough, to bring joy and to expand people’s horizons so that what before was impossible can become possible.
“This AGM takes place at a time when the universal Church is undertaking a Synod, and we will surely be following this over the months ahead with great interest. More locally, important developments are taking place that we hope will bring new energy to the work of Catholic education. The new inspection regime in our schools has already begun, and in January we have the long-awaited publication of the new RE Curriculum Directory. The forthcoming Prayer and Liturgy Directory, which was the topic of our conference in York in April, has been undergoing considerable revision in light of the comments and suggestions made and we look forward soon to a revised draft.
“I’m reminded of those opening lines from Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.’ For us as Catholics, even more so for us as Religious Inspectors, Advisors and Educators, these times are not easy to navigate. But one thing we can be sure of is the promise Jesus made to us His Church, His last words before ascending to the Father: Know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time. This Advent, let us ask Him for the gift of hope and let us pray that His Holy Spirit will show us the right way forward.”