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The Catholic Church of England opens up to those who are “distant”. Many new faithful and baptized for Easter

The Resurrection Vigil is when, across the Country’s 22 dioceses, communities welcome Catechumens and people from other Christian denominations. Among the converts figure those who had described themselves as atheists or distant from all faiths. Renewed commitment for evangelization. The story of Jonathan Hurley, postman of Syston

Renewed attention to the so-called “distant” faithful and a zealous commitment in the mission. Rather than making converts there is the awareness that Gospel witness today is an integral part of personal belief. This is how the Catholic Church of England and Wales addresses the numerous requests of those determined to leave other Christian denominations (the majority of English believers are members of the Anglican Church), other religions, as well as environments where faith has lost value and meaning with time, in order to become members of the Catholic Church. Such “grace” is experienced during the Easter vigil, with faithful who draw near the Catholic Church and others who have asked to be baptized.

An upward trend. Numbers speak for themselves. In the archdiocese of Westminster alone, which includes London and is the most important in the Country, led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Primate of England and Wales, 622 people from 123 parishes who were already baptized Christians, have been welcomed into the Catholic Church, along with 353 catechumens, those who undertake the path of preparation leading to Baptism. In the past four-year period approximately 1800 people per year have entered the Catholic Church in all 22 dioceses of this Bishops’ Conference, a figure likely to be repeated again this year considering that, in the diocese of Shrewsbury, a small sample meter of the whole Church of England, this Easter there have been 32 new Catholic faithful and 12 catechumens.

Atheist and indifferent. These are considerable figures considering also the wider context of secularization in which the Church of England and Wales operates. “In their last plenary meeting the bishops for the first time have identified those with no religion as a privileged objective of the catechetical commitment of our department”, said Clare Ward, in charge of the Evangelization sector of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. “Recent surveys show that in the UK people who say they have no religion are steadily increasing. It is a very large group ranging from those who openly declare themselves atheist to those who are simply indifferent” to the religious message.

Faith and love for Emma. By his own admission Jonathan Hurley used to feel very distant from God. On Easter, along with the Baptism, he also received the sacrament of Communion and Confirmation in the church of Child Jesus of Prague in Syston, a small town in the north of England. Hurley, 42-year-old postman, husband of Emma, father of Adrian (almost 4), and Emily (18 months), said he “reached Jesus after a long journey” begun as a child when he used to participate, with much interest, to the religion lessons in the State school he attended in Addlestone, a town in Surrey, south of England, where he was born and raised. As a young man he enjoyed attending a youth group in a Christian church, guided by the religion teacher. He was especially fond of Biblical studies. Religion played an equally important role in his feeling of attraction for Emma, 35, raised in a family of Irish origin, teacher of Catholicism in a school run by the Church. “My wife didn’t try to convert me – he said – I am the one who decided to participate in the Alfa formation course and I accepted to raise our two children, Adrian e Emily, in the Catholic faith.”

A new community. Jonathan is pleased to share the news of his recent transfer from Addlestone, in the south of England, where he lived with his family, to Leicester, where his wife’s family lives. It also has a lower cost of living and the day-shifts at work enable him to return home early and spend the evenings with the family. Here, in the church of Child Jesus of Prague, has been recomposed “the mosaic of love that began with marriage”, Jonathan said. “I have been very happy since the moment we got here. We bought a house and the church is only five minutes’ away. It’s the cornerstone of our family life. I smile a lot and I can see the work of God, in nature for example, and in many small signs”, said the postman who became Catholic. “Faith is last tile of that mosaic of love that started to take shape when I first met Emma. In the past I made a great effort to love but I never managed to feel truly loved. Now I do.”

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