The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

Hope Springs Eternal: Presbyteral Conference 2024

Priests from across the Diocese of Leeds came to our Diocesan Pastoral and Conference Centre at Hinsley Hall on 14 and 15 May for their annual Presbyteral Conference. This year, the Conference was led by Mgr John Armitage who is Vicar General of Brentwood Diocese, former Rector of the National Catholic Shrine at Walsingham and Master of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom. One of our priests has sent his ‘View from the Valley’ to, sharing his reflections on what he heard – and the sense of hope for the Church’s future which he took away from those two days…

A Third Spring?

In July of 1852, Fr John Henry Newman preached a homily to the bishops and other senior churchmen gathered for the first synod of the newly-re-established Westminster Archdiocese.  He entitled this homily ‘The Second Spring’.

His moving words described the death and rebirth of Catholicism in England, heralding a new apostolic age of rebuilding and re-evangelisation of our country which would bind up the wounds caused by the Reformation, and the subsequent persecution of Catholics.

At our Clergy Conference in Hinsley Hall, Mgr John Armitage challenged us to see ourselves as heralds of a ‘Third Spring’.

The century of growth announced by Newman has, in recent decades, turned into decline.  Not only has Mass attendance fallen, but those who do attend often struggle to understand their faith in the context of a culture which has rejected God.  Truly, in the words of Pope Francis, we live not in an age of change, but in a Change of Age.

‘Our reaction to this change needs great wisdom, rather than knee-jerk reactions and “one size fits all” programmes,’ said Mgr Armitage.  In his words to us, he looked for this wisdom from a range of holy men and women, but in particular from two recent publications.

The first of these was an ‘Instruction’ from the Dicastery of the Clergy in Rome.  It has the rather catchy title, The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church.

Recognising the key role of the parish in both the ‘First Spring’ (Augustine’s mission to Anglo-Saxon England in the 7th century) and the 19th century ‘Second Spring’, Mgr Armitage explained that this Vatican document called for a ‘harmonious synthesis of charisms and vocations’ which would better correspond to the demands of evangelisation today.

Charisms – a word often used in Church documents – are the gratuitous gifts of the Holy Spirit given to all the baptised – bishops, priests, deacons and the laity – for the benefit of the Body of Christ.  Sometimes extraordinary, most times simple and yet still powerful, these charisms need to be discerned by the individual in their community, and overseen by the shepherds of the Church.

The second publication, written in the same year as the ‘Instruction’, comes from Mgr James Shea, President of the University of Mary in North Carolina and is entitled From Christendom to Apostolic Mission.  This very influential little book also looks at how the Church might respond to the ‘Change of Age’.

In common with many significant publications, it raises questions rather than providing easy answers.  These questions, along with those raised by the Dicastery’s ‘Instruction’, are ones that the clergy of the Diocese need to spend time together considering.

As we approach the 2025 ‘Jubilee of Hope’, both Mgr Shea and Mgr Armitage bring messages of hope.  The Church, at several times in its history, has seemed to face impossible, irreconcilable opposition.  But it is out of the ashes that the phoenix rises, out of the tomb that we see our Risen Lord, and after a Winter of the Spirit that there comes the signs of Spring.

C7th to C16th: The First Spring

C19th: ‘The Second Spring’

C21st: Mgr John Armitage encourages us to look forward in Hope to a ‘Third Spring’!


Prayer of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom for the Conversion of England and Wales:

‘Jesus, convert England; Jesus, have mercy on this country; O England, turn thyself to the Lord, Thy God.’
(Prayer of Blessed Henry Heath, Tyburn, 1643)