Why do people become Catholic now?

Dr Susan Longhurst has researched what makes people convert now and explains what we can learn from them.

I made a life changing decision in 2015, though I didn’t know it at the time. I began part time study for an MA in Theology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

I was (and still am) a busy mum bringing up three sons, and I travelled to St Mary’s campus once a week to attend lectures during the evening.

One of the modules that most influenced was contemporary themes in theology.

We looked carefully at the rising numbers of people leaving the Church and giving up their religious identity. Alarming trends had become a reality in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

This interested me so I used the topic for my doctoral research.

But I decided to focus on the slightly more positive trends of people pursuing a journey to become Catholic, in spite of the growing secular culture.

It was a privilege to listen to people’s conversion stories, to pinpoint the moment of spiritual awakening, whether a conversation about faith with a dearly loved grandparent, to see someone praying the Rosary or simply wanting to sit in a Catholic church and be quiet.

Even more significant were the numbers of people that desperately wanted to learn what it meant to be Catholic and to have this for themselves, to realise that the Gospel values were something special, and often missing from secular society.

One person I interviewed reflected on the lives of his friends living fast-paced lives in the city: “It was like they were running on a different sort of petrol, I didn’t want that anymore”.

As we emerge from the collective trauma of Covid 19, there is a very real need of review and recovery, taking stock of where we are as a Church.

Pope Francis speaks of the current Synod as a ‘time of reckoning’ and a time to be particularly receptive to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We are called to look for signs of the Spirit at work in our lives and communities, and the signs are there.

One I experienced myself started last year, when the first cohort of students em- barked on a Master programme in Applied Catholic Theology at the Gillis Centre in Edinburgh.

It’s an exciting collaboration between the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edin- burgh and St Mary’s University.

The Gillis centre is a fitting place for it. Inspired by the vision of Bishop Gillis to bring Catholic education back to Scotland, it is rich in historical and theological significance (it was originally the first convent to be established in Scotland after the Reformation).

Clearly the same Spirit unites the work of Bishop Gillis and this venture – a shared vision to provide an opportunity for Catholics to grow in the knowledge and love of their Faith.

The Synod has provided us with an opportunity and a challenge for the future. How can we respond to the call of the Holy Spirit, in the true spirit of Synodality?

Here are three practical suggestions for ways in which we can become energised, engaged and impactful:

I may be biased but I would truly urge you to consider enrolling on the two-year MA for Applied Catholic Theology at the Gillis centre, Edinburgh. It’s a way to develop your professional life and deepen your faith by engaging with key aspects of Catholic theology so you can then pass it on to others.

Connect with your parish priest and volunteers to find out about what needs doing in your local parish and how you can help. Browse your diocesan website for ways to become actively involved.

Finally, I tell everyone to read Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future by Pope Francis, to understand his vision and how we can become missionary disciples.

Dr Susan Longhurst is Course Lead for the MA in Applied Catholic Theology at the Gillis Centre, Edinburgh and Lecturer in Ethics and Religion, within the Institute of Theology and Liberal Arts, St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

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