The bishop of Portsmouth has called for a new approach to the Sacrament of Confirmation in his diocese, saying that young people need to be converted, not merely catechised.

In a pastoral letter, Bishop Philip Egan announced measures to ensure that the newly Confirmed remain practising Catholics.

If possible, he said, Confirmation courses should last two years and continue for a year after the Confirmation itself. Candidates should be at least 13 and should choose a saint’s name for the Confirmation.

The bishop wrote: “Over the last decades, there has been much discussion about Confirmation … But to me one thing is clear: we cannot continue indefinitely our current practice, because many of the young who receive this sacrament afterwards drift away.

“Recently someone lamented to me that only two of their 40 newly Confirmed practise their faith, despite a fine programme of catechesis and an uplifting celebration in the Cathedral. I replied provocatively: ‘You catechised them. You sacramentalised them. But did you convert them?’ Evangelisation is first and foremost about conversion, a religious experience of meeting Jesus Christ and being called personally by Him with a transformed heart. We need to enable the conversion of young Catholics, not just to catechise them.”

The bishop said that catechists must tackle “the real blockages to faith many people today struggle with: the existence of God, why a good God allows so much suffering in the world, the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, freedom and responsibility, sexuality, and the relationship of science and religion.”

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