Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
28 Sep 2011
Father Alexander Sherbrooke is renowned worldwide for revitalising St Patrick's Parish in Soho, London's notorious red light district where the city's homeless and prostitutes share narrow crowded streets with tourists and theatre goers headed for the West End.
Not only has Fr Alex breathed new life into Soho's centuries-old Catholic parish, bringing hope to its transient population through a spiritual outreach program, but in 2003 he established London's international School of Mission offering graduate Catholics a 12-month live-in course to deepen their faith, discover their vocation and become true apostles of the New Evangelisation.
Now the tall, energetic Eton-educated young priest is headed for Australia to take part in the Archdiocese of Sydney's 2011 Colloquium for Parish Renewal and the New Evangelisation.
Held at the University of Notre Dame's Broadway campus in Sydney, the Colloquium will take place over the second weekend of October, offering a forum for parishes across Sydney for renewal and affirmation as well as provide a faith-based source of optimism and inspiration.
A series of speakers as well as workshops will present creative and innovative initiatives to meet the changes and challenges facing parishes today as well as present resources available to parishes, clerics, educators and lay people to bring their community the precious gift of Christ's love.
Organised by CREDO, the Sydney Archdiocese office for Evangelisation and Renewal, it is the fourth time a Colloquium for the New Evangelisation has been held. The most recent Colloquium took place in 2008 and not only attracted participants from across Australia but the speakers and content were of such a high calibre, that a book produced from the proceedings: 'The New Evangelisation: Developing Evangelical Preaching" is still in demand and has undergone several printings.
A book is also expected to be produced from this year's Colloquium which focuses on parishes which give most of us our first experience of the Church. Our local parish is where the majority of us receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation. It is also where we marry and gather to mourn and pray for our dead.
But in today's increasing pressure cooker-like world where people are time poor and on call 24/7, faith frequently takes a backseat, as does our involvement with our local parish and church.
With the help of Fr Alex together with Bishop Julian Porteous, the Archdiocese's Vicar for Evangelisation and Renewal, Fr Rex Curry from the Catholic Parish of Sydney's Lower North Shore Parish and Fr Paul Hopper of St Joseph's Parish, Kingswood, along with panel discussions and workshops the Colloquium will address all the different ways parishes can be revitalised, refreshed and renewed.
In addition the Colloquium will show participants how to stage a parish mission event and how to take advantage of evangelism opportunities during the normal parish year. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process will also be discussed as a way to not only re-affirm faith but bring new vibrancy and hope to the entire parish.
Fr Alex, speaking from London prior to his arrival in Sydney next week, says one of the problems he faced when he joined St Patrick's Soho parish 10 years ago, was the exodus of residential parishioners. Not only did Fr Alex have to contend with a fast diminishing parish of local residents, many of whom had quit inner London for the city's outer suburbs, but also the seediness and sordidness of the area where prostitutes ply their trade and the homeless seek shelter in doorways.
Undaunted, Fr Alex reached out to the riff-raff, drug addicts and homeless as well as Soho's new and fast growing Latin American community and long established Chinese chaplaincy.
Offering the Blessed Sacrament 12 hours a day, a weekly dinner for the local homeless, a weekly prayer group for drug addicts and their families, Fr Alex also founded an SOS prayer-line where trained volunteers pray with distressed callers, a natural fertility clinic in the basement of the Rectory for engaged and married couples and introduced free meals with free catechetical talks for young Catholics interested in discovering more about their faith.
Not content to stop there, he also set about establishing the International School of Mission, or School of Evangelisation as it is known, where around 12 students from across Britain as well as from Poland, the US, Ireland and other countries can live and study for a year, during which time they are able to discover their vocation, deepen their faith and evangelise on Soho's streets.
"Poverty comes in many forms," Fr Alex says of the many programs he has instigated in his parish, and his commitment to the New Evangelisation as described by Pope John Paul II. "There is material poverty, which we try to meet throughout open house suppers for the homeless and our prayer group for those on drugs. But there is also spiritual poverty, loneliness, lack of love, guilt. There is a great need to bring people the healing love of Jesus, especially through the Blessed Sacrament."
For Fr Alex, Eucharistic Adoration is an essential part of parish renewal, as is having young people in the parish or studying at the School of Mission with the poor.
"Service to the poor is the very heart of the Gospel and the life of the Church. And it is important to give young people the opportunity to specifically touch and see Christ in the poor," he says describing evangelisation as "speaking through Christ to people."
Faith is even more important these days, he believes particularly in a nation such as Britain which has seen a breakdown and disintegration of family life and Christian values.
"In many ways Britain's recent riots were a manifestation of gang culture which regard the forces of law and order as pushovers. These gang members are products of a social welfare system over several generations who have no respect for their elders or for the police or authority, and certainly some areas in the UK are now lawless," he says.
But while this is definitely an issue, Fr Alex believes what is even more significant from a Christian point of view is the fact that the British are now living in a society that doesn't promote the values of marriage, doesn't promote the values of family or education or respect for the elderly.
"These are pillars of Christianity and they have been undermined over several generations. Until now we have had not just a breakdown of law and order in Britain but of our entire social structure."
The CREDO Colloquium on Parish Renewal and Evangelisation will take place on 8 - 9 October at the Broadway campus of the University of Notre Dame. To find out more and to register log on to http://www.sydneycatholic.org/events/evangelisation.shtml