Interview with Bishop Nicholas Hudson, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, on Friday 2 September during the Proclaim 2016, national conference on evangelisation.
‘Are you going to give us a silver bullet for evangelisation?’ Bishop Nicholas Hudson, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, was asked on the journey from Sydney airport to the Diocese of Broken Bay for the Proclaim 2016, national conference on evangelisation.
He quickly responded, ‘there is no silver bullet, it’s going to be different in every parish and every local community’. Interestingly, the question stayed with him and ‘I’ve found myself thinking, there is one silver bullet and that is to just start doing it’.
‘Sometimes there is scope for reflection and being strategic that’s the reason why we are all gathered here for Proclaim 2016. We know that Pope Francis has a vision and there is a phrase, “Vision without strategy is hallucination”. That is how Pope Francis sees it and when he says that he dreams of a missionary option for the Church, what he means is that we need to do a lot of rethinking.
‘We need to rethink our strategies, our methods and our structures in order to be more evangelising but the way we become more evangelising is just by getting on with it.
The Proclaim conference was hosted by the Diocese of Broken Bay in partnership with the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Evangelisation.
Bishop Hudson’s address at the Proclaim conference focused on parishes becoming oases of mercy. ‘I learnt from my Dad when I was six years old, he used to take me out to visit the neighbours who were elderly or alone. He wasn’t self-consciously teaching me to make our family or our parish an oasis of mercy, but I realised that he was for those vulnerable people around us, an oasis of mercy.
‘He would say to me, Nick, let’s go and see Bob, next door, or we would drop off a shepherd’s pie to Mr Flood every Saturday. It was a way of showing mercy. So I believe that parishes need believe in being oasis of mercy, by simply showing mercy to their neighbours. The clue is to simply ask, who is my neighbour? And if you ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in the response, you can’t but become more evangelising.’
At the time of his ordination, Bishop Hudson said that he would like to emulate the Holy Father’s radical simplicity and outreach to people on the margins of society. ‘I’ve tried to do this by fostering a relationship with some people who I really believe to be on the very margins of society and that’s people with learning disabilities.
‘I think I’ve learnt most about reaching out to the marginalised through my relationship with the communities of L’Arche who are very present here in Australia, as well as back home in my native country England.
‘I’ve learnt that they are some of the most marginalised and oppressed members of society. From the outset when I became a bishop, L’Arche has taught me that the Church can in fact reach out to those on the margins and help them realise that they are important.’
Fostering parish evangelisation teams is part of a structured strategic approach to evangelisation. One of the ways that parishioners can help is by asking people to pray for ways the parish develops, Bishop Hudson explained.
‘What I’ve found in my relationship with people with learning disabilities through L’Arche, is that they do start praying for you and it transforms your relationship with them, they start praying for you and they become somebody who is behind you, before you and beside you praying.
‘It is a beautiful way of saying to someone; I need you. If you can go to someone with learning disabilities and say to them, I need you to do something for me, they will look at you quite amazed because people don’t normally say that to them. I need you to pray for me because you have a gift of prayer. It is a beautiful statement of their worth.’
Youth Ministry is one of the areas of responsibility for Bishop Hudson in the Diocese of Westminster. ‘Chatting to Archbishop Mark Coleridge and Bishop Peter Comensoli [this morning], we notice that when we ask what’s the difference between the Church in the 1960’s and 70’s that we grew up in and the Church now, one of the things that struck us is that there is now more being provided for young people and young adults that there was when we were growing up in the Church.
‘This observation arose from something significant for the Church and this conference, we notice that there aren’t many young men here at Proclaim 2016, in some ways we are not surprised by this because we know it is one of the real challenges for the Church, to win the confidence of young men in the Church and for them to want an involvement in the life of the Church.’
Having recently returned from World Youth Day 2016, Bishop Hudson described the numbers that came and engaged as very encouraging. ‘I had a really good experience of World Youth Day in Krakow, where Pope Francis came to be with thousands of young people. We had a large group from 16 years up to 30 years.
‘One of the things we’re trying to develop in our diocese back home is a diocesan youth ministry which brings together those who have had significant youth ministry experience in their parish or those who are seeking to learn more about youth ministry, to bring them together to live in community for a year.
‘It is the hope that those who have experienced the diocesan youth ministry will in due course go back to their parishes and foster it there. It’s a good example of how you can develop an ethos of evangelising centrally and in doing so you are preparing people to bring that back to their parishes and give youth ministry a higher profile and significance locally in their parish.’
The Bishops of England and Wales held their first Proclaim conference almost 14 months ago with dioceses encouraged to follow-up by hosting local Proclaim conferences.
Commenting on the similarities and differences with the Australian Catholic Bishops initiative, Bishop Hudson noted that, ‘it’s interesting for me to observe what’s happening here in Australia but also to tune into the developments of Proclaim conferences here over the past six years.
‘It’s very encouraging to see that because this is the third Proclaim conference here, people in Australia have been getting on with developing evangelisation at the diocesan, deanery and parish level and in their individual lives. There seems to be a greater facility with finding the words to describe what they’re doing in terms of evangelisation.
‘There is something developing here that gives me real heart for back home. It gives me encouragement to work on the idea, which I’ve suggested to the Bishops of England and Wales, we should start to think in terms of a follow-up National Proclaim Conference because I see the benefits of it here.’
Another keynote speaker at the Proclaim Conference was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (D.C). ACBC interviewed Cardinal Wuerl following his address about parish renewal and evangelisation. You can watch the interview here, thanks to the Diocese of Parramatta for editing the video.