Alan McGuckian SJ and the team at the Living Church Office in Belfast organised the third annual Faith and Life Convention on Saturday, 25th September in Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s College, Knock, Belfast. The convention is a forum for people to gather and participate in a range of conversations about the meaning of faith and its relevance to their everyday lives. 500 people took part.
This year there was a big Jesuit presence throughout the day. Sarah Teather who is the Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (UK) was the keynote speaker. Prior to joining JRS, Sarah served as a Member of Parliament for twelve years in inner London. Initially elected as the youngest MP in Britain, she went on to hold office as Minister of State for Children and Families, where she had responsibility for tackling child poverty, supporting children with special educational needs, and negotiated the end of detention of children in the immigration system.
Sarah reflected upon her own personal journey of faith; a journey that involved falling in love with God and his people and actively living out that love in her life. She cited Pedro Arrupe and his prayer ‘Fall in love and stay in love’ as a big influence in her life. As she told the delegates, it was during the Long Retreat that she made the decision to leave parliament and seek other ways to serve God. “People found Sarah’s commitment to be with the poorest of the poor incredibly challenging,” says Alan. “One person told me that what they loved about her was the fact that, alongside her powerful commitment, she is incredibly real and grounded.”
When Sarah joined the JRS UK team from JRS International in January 2016 her work took her all over the world, visiting projects in the Middle East, East Africa and in key pressure points in Europe like Greece-Macedonia border and Southern Italy where refugees attempt dangerous crossings over the Mediterranean.
In the afternoon, participants were able to choose from over twenty workshops which explored topics such as ‘The pastoral response to suicide’, ‘Faith and the Public Square’, ‘Care for our common home’ and ‘Faith and Film’.
Among those afternoon sessions the Jesuit contribution was prominent again. Donal Neary SJ sparked a lot of interest in our soon to be beatified Fr John Sullivan SJ. Brian Grogan had to go looking for extra chairs for all the people who wanted to take part in his sessions on ‘Making Good Decisions’. “Bhí slua beag breá agam féin don cheardlann a thug mé féin i nGaelic ar bheatha Iognáid agus a spioradáltacht,” a deir Alan.
Elizabeth Foley, Cecilia West, and her daughter Victoria had a stall on behalf of Messenger Publications in the Exhibition Space; they made plenty of contacts and sold a lot of books. ‘A good day!’
Photo: Claire McCusker, Down and Conor Pastoral Council, Alan McGuckian SJ, Sarah Teather, Keynote Speaker, Marie Fitzpatrick, Pastoral Council, and Bishop Noel Treanor.