When Pope Francis asked first for silence and then for the blessing of the thousands in St Peter’s Square on March 13th 2013, he was heralding a new age. Before he blessed them, he asked for the people’s prayers ‘over him’. Simple, symbolic, game changing. That Roman spring saw the first shoots of a new model of church, a reflowering of the promises of the second Vatican Council~ an opening out again to the world~ and a new enthusiasm for listening to, and learning, from the People of God ~ an upside down sort of church, indeed. 

And that reform-minded mood, that openness to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all men and women of goodwill, has borne fruits in our own parish ~ when we were invited to ‘wake up’, to listen to and learn from each other as parish groups came together to give witness, to be challenged, and to be cheered on, in living the gospel daily.

Pope Francis had asked his bishops to get close to the people, to ‘smell of the sheep’, as he put it. At the ’The Smell of the Sheep’ workshop, the participants were invited to look at the findings of the ACTA survey which covered all the areas the Synod on the Family had asked for views on ~ and then have their own say.

What was surprising about the survey, and very illuminating, were the findings about what families, from their own experiences, find most useful in bringing them closer together: shared meals, days out, the support of friends and time for prayer. The challenge seems to be: how can we recreate such an intimate, helpful and reaffirming church? Above all, what respondents to the survey had called for was: ‘a more welcoming, listening and humble church’. What are the implications of such a call for pastoral practice and new models of ministry?

Among the more specific questions asked at the workshop was: we have a lively children’s liturgy but what about an adult liturgy, where the voices and gifts of lay people can be heard and celebrated? What about everyday spirituality ~ celebrating the diversity of daily lives? How well do we know our fellow worshippers at Sunday Mass? Where is the opportunity to chat with our neighbours in the pews? How welcoming are we to newcomers?  Two of the older participants reflected sadly that many of the new hopes for the church had been aired during the national pastoral congress they had attended thirty years ago in Liverpool. Lay people were not listened to then ~ would it be different this time? It was the youngest member, a busy wife and mother, who
was the most hopeful: perhaps in her lifetime that dream of a renewed church would actually be a reality?

Adult Catholic voices heard in a school classroom in Woolton Village. And then individual prayer bleats ~ the sounds of about thirty sheep? 

Kathy Bamber

For Bleats page 1 click here

For Bleats page 2 click here