A Celebration of Faith in the North


Universe Column for May 8th 2005

by David Alton

The Universe recently reported an exciting new venture that will take place over the weekend of May 20th: – the Northern Catholic Conference.  It’s an initiative that’s been spearheaded by a committed group of Catholics who want to give other Catholics in the north of England  a pause from life’s demands and an opportunity for spiritual reflection and renewal.

Over the last decade conferences like this one have been springing up to meet a clear need.  I have written before about ‘Celebrate’ – which takes place each Easter week in Devon . Another big event, ‘New Dawn’, takes place in the first week of August at Walsingham. Places for families wanting to go to ‘Celebrate’ are sold out long before Christmas, whilst the ‘New Dawn’ festival attracts some three thousand people. So there is an obvious unfulfilled need.

Last summer a young Catholic from Salford Diocese, Frankie Mulgrew, initiated a consultation process to discern whether a similar event could and should be organised in the North of England.  Some of those who took part included Fr Jimmy Collins – a remarkable Priest from the Liverpool Archdiocese, and Miles Dempsey – the leader of the Prince of Peace Community.

The steering group decided to take a leap of faith and booked the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool as a venue for the first Northern Catholic Conference.

The event has the full approval of the Liverpool Archdiocesan authorities and the Cathedral has been put made available for the Conference on Sunday 22nd of May at 3pm, when the Auxiliary Bishop, The Very Rev. Tom Williams, will lead a family healing Mass that concludes the weekend.

The keynote speakers will include the Irish theologian and author, Frances Hogan, a highly acclaimed bible scholar. As a lay missionary for over twenty-five years she has devoted her life to spreading the Word of God and has opened up the scriptures to many people around the world.

Another speaker will be the reformed ex-gangster and now catholic evangelist John Pridmore. Having turned away from a life of brutal violence and crime in London ’s underworld John committed himself to Christ. He will share the powerful story of his extraordinary and incredible journey.

I have been asked to talk about the demands of Christian citizenship.

During part of the weekend there will be an evening dedicated to laughter and fellowship with the comedians Jimmy Cricket (who is Frankie Mulgrew’s father) and Don Maclean. Laughter can sometimes be overlooked as one of God’s great gifts of healing and reconciliation. In broken and hurting lives, laughter brings comfort, warmth, and healing. Being able to make people laugh is a fantastic gift. As Jimmy Cricket says, “Our sense of humour is our priceless commodity and when we celebrate this we celebrate our gift from God.”

The Conference will include a youth stream for young participants over the age of fourteen run by the Liverpool Youth Mission Team, who will be joined by Fr Dermot Donnelly and the mime artist, Steve Murray. Having seen them in action I have been deeply impressed by the way they present Gospel values in a contemporary and very reachable way for young people.

The team who have organised this event deserve our appreciation and support. They have taken seriously the encouragement to “Put out into the deep.” Like them, I think that a celebration of the richness of the Catholic faith in the North of England will add to the vibrancy of the Church’s life. Mass, prayers of healing, reconciliation, praise and worship, talks, comedy, and an exploration of the gifts of the Spirit should make it a memorable weekend. If the need is demonstrated the organisers hope it will become a bigger annual fixture, helping northern Catholics to pass on their faith.

It’s an excellent initiative and deserves our support.  It’ll be worth trying to get to some or all of it.

The conference runs from Friday 20th May at 7.30pm through till Sunday 22nd May, held in the memorable surroundings of the Adelphi Hotel, Ranelagh Place , Liverpool . To register or find out more information Tel 0781 206 4746 or go to www.northerncatholic.co.uk