Manchester students flock to pray this Lent

Week of guided prayer at Manchester Catholic chaplaincy
Week of guided prayer at Manchester Catholic chaplaincy

In the heart of Manchester, unprecedented numbers of young people are flocking to the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy to discover God this Lent. Over 75 students signed up to participate in a Week of Guided prayer run by the Jesuit chaplains there. This number of students even surpassed Oxford’s record of 63 students, making it the most successful of its kind in the country.

The Week of Guided Prayer initiative, while not exclusively existing for students, has been so successfully received in previous years at the chaplaincy, that it returned by popular demand. Lead chaplain Fr Tim Byron SJ said: “We always get a good turnout for these retreats, but there’s an even bigger appetite for it during Lent. The young people themselves strive for this to be a time of renewal.”

The Jesuit spirituality outreach team hold ‘retreats in daily life’ throughout the UK. During these weeks, retreatants agree to commit themselves to 30 minutes of daily prayer. They also commit to meeting with a prayer guide every day. This guide provides the retreatant with prayer resources, a listening ear and advice to help to find God in daily life. These sessions are accompanied by workshops based on Ignatian spirituality.

Steve Hoyland, former chaplain at Lancaster University, has been running the Jesuits in Britain Week of Guided Prayer initiative in university chaplaincies for several years. He has, however, been particularly moved by the overwhelmingly positive response in Manchester.

“There’s definitely something special happening here in Manchester. The turnout is staggering! We normally would consider 20 retreatants constituting a successful retreat, so 75 is huge!” Laughing, he added, “I was somewhat terrified at the opening meeting!”

So what is it that draws Mancunian students to the Week of Guided Prayer? Steve mused, “They’re on a hunt for God. Some find a reconnection with God in the midst of busy lives. Others are making their first connection with God in an intimate way. There’s no pressure or lofty theology. All that’s needed is an open heart. It’s person-centred, which simply means: pray as you can, not as you can’t.”

Weeks of Guided Prayer are being led by the Jesuit spirituality outreach team throughout Salford Diocese, with 20 parishes taking part, open to people of all ages.

Why is there such a demand among students? “It’s the simple thing of being listened to,” says Fr Tim. “Manchester is a vast place for a student to be, particularly if they’re far from home. They don’t always feel that they’re listened to. We’re offering that support, that time. That in itself can be quite healing.”