"Son of encouragement" - Jesuit pastoral conference opens
120 delegates from our ten parishes around the country arrived yesterday at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick as the Jesuit Pastoral Conference 2017 got underway.
Each parish is represented by its parish priest and any permanent staff, as well as members of the parish council and key volunteers. They are joined by key speakers (James Hanvey SJ, Elizabeth Davies and Henry Longbottom SJ), Fr Provincial and representatives of several of our apostolic works.
Br Ken Vance SJ, the Province Pastoral Assistant, opened the conference with a warm welcome and reminder of the journey we have all travelled leading up to this conference, the third of its kind. The most recent, in 2014, focussed on Ignatian Spirituality and how to make this more of a living force in our parishes. In the past three years all the parishes have held at least one week of guided prayer, offered spiritual direction, and developed initiatives such as Corpus Christi’s Hearts on Fire mission.
The year the conference will give in depth consideration to three key documents from Pope Francis:
Evangelii Gaudiam – the first Apostolic Exhortation
Laudato Sii- the Encyclical on the Environment
Amoris Laetitia – the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (following the Synods on marriage and the family in 2014 and 2015)
“We started planning this conference more than a year ago” explained Br Ken, “working with a steering group which included lay men and women as well as a parish priest, we decided to focus on these radical new documents from Pope Francis, and how we as Jesuit parishes should respond to our Jesuit pope.”
The conference will divide into three streams, each considering one of the papal documents with the help of an expert facilitator, with representatives of each parish in each stream. The three groups will come together on Saturday and work in parish groups to discuss how the pope’s messages can be implemented in practical ways in each parish.
In preparation for the conference, steering group member Brian Purfield, who is a team member at the Mount Street Jesuit Centre, held workshops in most of our parishes on the three papal documents.
Brian closed the first session with a reflection on St Barnabas, a missionary preacher of the early church and companion of St Paul, whose feast falls on Sunday. The name Barnabas means “son of encouragement”. It was Barnabas who encouraged Paul when others were suspicious of him, who accompanied him and brought out his potential:
“He promotes the best in Paul, he assists the possible; he invests his time and love and energy in the person Paul can become. That is encouragement. We can all bless God for the people who invested in us, who encouraged us to be who we are, and let us pray that when the time comes we too can be Barnabas, not just during this conference but when we return to our parishes.”