Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) -Bishop James D. Conley recently returned from a trip to London that included a commencement speech, a visit to a historic cathedral and a talk on his pastoral letter, “The Language of Love.”
He began his trip speaking at the commencement Mass of Saint Patrick's Evangelization School (SPES), by special invitation of Father Alexander Sherbooke, pastor of Saint Patrick Parish in London.
Father Sherbooke and the bishop have been close friends since both served in Rome in the late 1990s. As pastor of a parish in the heart of London’s notorious Soho district, Father Sherbooke’s parish is surrounded by drug abuse, the sex trade and other societal ills.
“Saint Patrick’s serves as a beacon of light and hope in an otherwise very dark part of London,” Bishop Conley said.
The bishop described SPES as “a wonderful opportunity for young people to experience true missionary discipleship, working with the poor and homeless and doing street evangelization.”
Bishop Conley has had a role at the school since its inception more than 12 years ago. He has lectured for the program on occasion, and when he was chaplain for the University of Dallas in Rome, he sponsored a number of students who volunteered as missionaries with SPES.
“SPES, I believe, is a perfect example of what Pope Francis is calling all of us to do,” Bishop Conley said. “[He] has been challenging the Church to think of new ways to reach out with the Gospel of Joy to people on the peripheries of life, to the materially and spiritually poor, to the marginalized, to those caught up in sin.”
After 12 years of running SPES, Father Sherbooke will take a sabbatical for the 2014-2015 academic year, so he can focus on developing other programs of evangelization in Soho. Bishop Conley is particularly interested in one called “Nightfever,” a program started in Cologne, Germany at World Youth Day 2005.
Nightfever revolves around Eucharistic Adoration. Evangelists invite people off the streets – whether they believe in Christ or not – to come into the church for silence and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
“At Saint Patrick’s I heard incredible stories of conversions through this experience,” Bishop Conley said.
He added, “Pope Francis keeps reminding us that we cannot be a self-referential Church, that we have to continually go out of ourselves and become more effective missionary disciples for the Lord.”
The next leg of his London trip was visiting the Anglican Cathedral of Our Lady of Lincoln with Father Sherbooke.
“We traveled by train at the invitation of the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Philip Buckler,” Bishop Conley said. “Its size, beauty and expanse are truly breathtaking.”
The Cathedral was built in the 11th Century, just after the Norman Conquest. (Editor's Note: A 1072 stone from the Cathedral was gifted to Bishop Bruskewitz in 2010.) For centuries, it was the tallest building in Europe with twin steeples soaring to the heavens. This cathedral was the seat of the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln (England) until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
“We were given a two-hour tour of the entire Cathedral, from the crypt to the high turrets, where one can see for miles across the English countryside,” Bishop Conley said.
He particularly enjoyed seeing a recently commissioned statue of Our Lady of Lincoln, which he pronounced, “exquisite.”
“I was very happy to discover that Lincolnshire was a center of Marian devotion during the Middle Ages,” Bishop Conley said.
He also came away inspired with ideas to use in Lincoln, Neb.
“We are coming up to the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ,” he said. “After visiting the Cathedral in England, I have some new ideas about ways we can honor that occasion.”
On the last full day of his London visit, Bishop Conley delivered a talk on his recent pastoral letter, “The Language of Love,” to young Catholic single people and engaged couples. Also attending were a handful of physicians and nurses, the director of the Office of Family Life for the Archdiocese of Westminster, and Bishop Philip Egan, the recently-ordained Bishop of Portsmouth.
Bishop Conley is gratified that the Internet has made his pastoral letter accessible around the world.
“I think the important message of my pastoral letter is the beauty of the vocation of love. And the most important truth about love is the sincere gift of self,” he said.
It is that message of love to the height of self-giving that he believes resonates with all Christians, not just Catholic married couples who are faced with pressure to contracept.
“When couples embrace the full meaning of conjugal love in marriage according to the vision the Church has for marriage, they can achieve great things and in the process can transform themselves and transform the world for Christ,” the bishop said.
He continued, “I also wanted to challenge physicians, pharmacists and all health care professionals to promote a culture of life and love in their professional lives. This, too, can be a great sacrifice.”
Now back in Nebraska, Bishop Conley is grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to speak about the Church’s teachings as well as support Father Sherbooke’s heroic efforts in London.
“When we travel to other places and other countries, we have the opportunity to see what is working in other places and we get new ideas,” he said.