Forty years ago this month, some 2,100 Catholics and a few ecumenical guests gathered in Liverpool for the largest deliberative gathering that the Catholic Church in England and Wales had ever held – or has held since. One of those who helped plan and facilitate the event assesses its legacy
Between the opening liturgy in Liverpool Cathedral on Friday 2 May 1980 and the concluding Eucharist on Tuesday 6 May, also in the Cathedral, the National Pastoral Congress occupied five days of intense debate, celebration and prayer.
In his homily delivered during the closing Mass, Cardinal Basil Hume voiced the thoughts of many when he said that the presence of the Holy Spirit “has been sensed by us all and in a quite remarkable way”. Although in Liverpool in 1980 few of us had heard the word “synodality”, it is clear looking back that the Congress could best be described as a synodal process. Taking place only 15 years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, it was also an experience of reception of the Council and its teaching by the Church in England and Wales.
As the Church in England and Wales considers how best to follow Francis’ lead towards becoming a more synodal Church, it might be worth remembering this pivotal national event. The Congress was the culmination of two years of intense preparation involving parishes and dioceses and Catholic charities and organisations. Early in 1979, more than 100,000 people responded to a survey inviting them to suggest what issues they would like to see included on the Congress agenda.