The numbers of people due to be received into the Church at Easter this year are at their lowest for six years.
Figures for England and Wales from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Network show that 2,793 adults and children attended the Rite of Election this year.
This compared to 3,286 last year and is almost 1,200 below the highest so far this decade of 3,931 in 2011 – a figure which does not include the 795 Anglicans who became Catholics via the Ordinariate that year.
The Rite of Election takes place in cathedrals every Sunday after Ash Wednesday and is the start of the process of welcoming those to be received into the Church.
The numbers do not reflect the entirety of those to be received into the Church at Easter as not all converts attend the service.
Three dioceses in the southeast of England – Brentwood (249), Southwark (435) and Westminster (577) - were responsible for almost 45 per cent of this year’s total, while the three dioceses in Wales managed just 70 in all.
Of the dioceses elsewhere in the country only Birmingham came anywhere close to the southeast with a total of 250.
Clare Ward, Home Mission Advisor at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the figures offered an unreliable picture. She said: “It’s important to note that the Rite of Election only offers a snapshot of the number of people preparing to be received into the Catholic Church at Easter, and does not provide an accurate measure of the total number of receptions in a twelve-month period.
“It is normal to see regional and annual variations in the figures, not least, because it can take many years for someone to decide to become a Catholic.”
She said that the bishops’ conference was committed to the New Evangelisation and is encouraging parishes to prioritise evangelistic outreach. It has commissioned a series of national projects including Come Home for Christmas, a seasonal invitational initiative; Crossing the Threshold which equips parishes to reach out to non-churchgoing, lapsed, Catholics and this year’s “Proclaim ’15” initiative - a gathering in Birmingham in July which has as a central theme resourcing and building missionary parishes.
It has also launched a major research project exploring how to reach out to non-churchgoing parents through their local Catholic primary school.
Ms Ward said: “In these ways and many others the bishops, and a large network of generous co-workers in dioceses and parishes across our countries, express their commitment to seeking new ways of reaching out to people as Jesus commands us.”
Another major event for young people - Flame 2 - takes place at Wembley Arena in London this weekend. Billed as the biggest Catholic youth gathering in the UK outside papal visits, hundreds of young people will be addressed by the charismatic Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
2012 Grammy Award winner Matt Redman will also give his faith testimony as a Christian songwriter.
Last month the Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole, who is responsible for evangelisation in England and Wales, launched his own diocese’s plan for reform. He created a Vicariate for the New Evangelisation, Catechesis and Schools and in a pastoral letter urged parishes to go out on to the streets and open up church buildings.
“We need to be courageous,” he wrote. “We live in a time when Europe has in many ways become tired of its Christian roots.”
Above: Young people at a Flame event