...Court near Henley in Oxfordshire is a glorious Jacobean mansion with wide green lawns and a stretch of water as you look out from a magnificent drawing-room down towards the river Thames. More prosaically, in its extensive grounds it has a modern conference centre which, because the whole place is currently owned by the Polish Marist Fathers, is dedicated to Pope John Paul II and has a large modern church with a shrine to the Divine Mercy.
And here we were, last Friday evening, driving up alongside soaking meadows on a rainswept evening, for a great gathering of Catholic young people: the Evangelium Conference.
It was terrific! Some wonderful speakers - including Walter Hooper, friend and biographer of CS Lewis, Roy Schoeman author of Salvation is from the Jews, Father Jerome Bertram whose latest book on prayer I had just been sent by Family Publications (it's brilliant) and more. Much more. The conference was packed, the daily liturgies a source of great inspiration, the atmosphere fizzing with hope and enthusiasm.
That very first evening, when we gathered for the Church's beautiful night prayer in the chapel, with the Divine Mercy picture gazing down at us across rows of flickering candles beneath the wooden beams of the chapel, I think we all knew that we were taking part in something extraordinary.
And so it proved to be. A time of exhiliarating talk, intellectual stimulation, challenge to action. From Roy Shoeman's powerfully moving personal testimony and revelation of aspects of God's covenant love which I for one had never really pondered before.... through a short but powerful talk from John Pontifex of ACN about the needs of the persecuted Church (remembering China, relevant at this time)... to Fr Jerome's excellent demolition-job on those who claim that the Gospels are irrelevant forgeries...and on to a presentation of the superb Evangelium project which aims to teach the Faith anew in parishes and youth groups and Confirmation classes and more...it was a time to cherish.
Who was there? The young people came from a wide range of groups. Some were from a Charismatic prayer-group sort of background, others had links with the FAITH Movement, several had some involvement with one of the new movements in the Church. When we sang the Latin chant at Mass, there was a general response and a familarity with things like the Credo and Sanctus, as with the concept of Evening Prayer and the singing of the Salve Regina. There was great reverence at Adoration of the Bl. Sacrament, and as we all knelt there in the candlelit chapel, many people went to confession. There was lively talk and laughter and socialising at the bar and in the teams that formed for the Saturday night quiz. What this conference brought together was a sense of the emergence of the next generation in the Church.
"The Church is alive - and the Church is young."