My 14-year-old daughter got into trouble with an RE teacher at her Catholic comprehensive school the other day. The teacher had been instructing the class that they shouldn't think that, as Catholics, they possessed the absolute truth since there was no such thing. She put up her hand and asked him if he was a relativist. When he said that he was, she told him that she didn't think he should be; the priests in her parish said that relativism was wrong. She was told off for undermining the teacher. In her school relativism, at least, is absolute.
Within Catholic secondary schools like my daughter's, children are being fed some very odd ideas about their religion. When Al Gore is set as an example of a great Christian to be written about for RE homework, is it a surprise that some of today's Catholic teenagers are in a fog about what Christianity is or that they lose their enthusiasm for the faith?
Fortunately for my family our parish church, the Holy Ghost in Balbarn , south London, is doing a remarkable job in lifting the fog. Our priest. Fr Stephen Langridge, believes that good teaching of authentic Catholic truth is fundamental if Catholics are to be equipped to spread the faith and further the cause of their own salvation. Under his leadership the Holy Ghost, as well as being a spiritual haven, has become a sort of educational powerhouse. It offers 21 different courses explaining all aspects of Catholic faith and culture to children and adults of all age groups. The growing numbers attending Mass on Sundays are witness to the success of the approach.
For those wishing to follow the lead, help is now at hand. The Evangelium project was set up by two young priests, Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Andrew Pinsent, whose goal is nothing less ambitious than the re-conversion of England. They see good catechesis as the first step. As Fr Pinsent put it to me: "We are looking beyond the battles of 25 years ago. The age of dissent is over. It didn't bear fruit. It didn't produce enthusiastic Catholics. Now we want to deepen the roots of the faithful to enable them to be fruitful."
Evangelium's first contribution was the production of a multimedia course using modem technology and religious art to present an orthodox vision of the faith as a basis for discussion in adult parish groups. Constructed, like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. in four parts — creed, sacraments, morals and prayer — it's easy to use and offers a wonderful introduction to the richness of the faith. There are other resources available and more to come.
Evangelium doesn't underestimate the enormity of the challenge of teaching authentic Catholic doctrine and practice in today's Britain. But its message is not falling on deaf ears. I've just been to a weekend conference it organised, sponsored by the Catholic Truth Society, at Fawley Court, Henleyon-Thames, on ways of explaining the Catholic faith in the modem world.
People aged between 18 and 35 were eligible to apply and there was space for 100. But it was oversubscribed and many more turned up. They came from all over England and some from Ireland. Some had heard about it through word of mouth; many had spotted a flyer at the back of their parish church and came alone. I met three doctors, an excellent and deeply committed RE teacher, a nurse from the Philippines, a delightful Irish girl in her early 20s who wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life, but told me she knew she wanted to do some good and so had just thrown in her job with an engineering company to work in a school in Ghana for three months.
They listened with rapt attention to the many and varied talks. Professor Roy Schoeman, formerly of the Harvard Business School, gave a dramatic witness testimony account of his conversion from Judaism to Catholicism. There was a learned and very funny put-down of those who doubt the credibility of the New Testament from the historian Fr Jerome Bertram of the Oxford Oratory, and many more.
The participants made friends, chatted and loved being together. But for many, the high point was the beauty and dignity of the Mass. "It was celebrated with so much love and reverence," said one. As I joined them for Benediction on Saturday night, with the rain beating down on the chapel roof and, inside, the place glowing with candles and alive with prayer, I was struck with a thought which I find is staying with me: perhaps, in the hands of these faithful, intelligent and educated young people, the re-conversion of England is not such a fanciful idea after all.