City Compass marks its 1st anniversary

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Each City Compass evening ends with socialising in a city bar. Photo: Patrick J Lee

As it marks its first year, a St Mary’s Cathedral group is helping to nurture the faith of countless young Catholics through a successful formula of catechesis, Eucharistic adoration and fellowship.

When 50 young Catholics walk into a bar…

While this might sound like the beginning of a joke, it is no joke at all. It happens every Thursday evening as part of City Compass, a thriving initiative of St Mary’s Cathedral which is marking its first anniversary this week.

Held at 6.30pm each Thursday night, City Compass begins with a short catechesis in the Lady Chapel of St Mary’s Cathedral offered by Father Lewi Barakat, silent Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, followed by dinner and drinks at one of the local city bars. The formula is simple, yet timeless.

Speaking of the beginnings of City Compass, Father Lewi says that the Cathedral is not like other parishes, because many of the Cathedral’s visitors work in the city but live elsewhere. After meeting with a number of young professionals individually, he identified a need for support, solidarity and an opportunity to be encouraged by the faith of others.

“We need a sense that we are journeying with others; that we aren’t doing this alone”,
Fr lewi barakat.

“The people I was meeting with could see the need as well,” Father Lewi says, “but it was only going to happen if we were willing to do something about it.” He invited several young professionals to form a leadership team that would share the responsibility of organising City Compass.

It was clear to the team that any gathering should have a Eucharistic focus. “Everything we do should be to help us to grow in our love for God and to recognise His love for us,” Father Lewi says. “The Eucharist draws us into love for one another as well: strengthening us in the twofold commandment of love of God and love of neighbour.”

City Compass team members Kieran Walton, Anitra Yu, Ann-Marie Boumerhe and Ben Conolly with Fr Lewi Barakat (centre). Photo: Patrick J Lee

Team member Kieran Walton commented on the attractiveness of the silence for those who are otherwise caught up in the busy-ness of city life.

“City Compass gives people the opportunity – and the permission – to spend an hour of quiet time with the Lord each week,” Kieran said. The silence of Eucharistic Adoration is broken only by the Tantum Ergo, sung beautifully by another team member, Anitra Yu.

“Incorporating the Church’s traditional sacred music is important to our gatherings, inviting us to enter into the Eucharistic mystery as we seek to deepen our love for and intimacy with the Real Presence of Christ,” Anitra commented.

Father Lewi also noticed a hunger for authentic Catholic formation; an explanation of the faith that would give attendees the confidence of the truth of the Catholic faith in the face of an increasingly secular world. In the past year, catechesis have included themes from the Church’s liturgical year, writings of the early Church fathers and Saints, and the basics of prayer, which was a very popular series.

When asked about the content of the catechesis, Father Lewi says he hopes it has something for everyone. “Saint John Henry Newman speaks of heart speaking to heart,” he explains. “I think God speaks to anyone who is willing to listen, no matter what level of faith they’re at.”

St Mary’s Cathedral assistant priest Fr Lewi Barakat delivering a catechesis at City Compass. Photo: Patrick J Lee

The social aspect of City Compass is also central to its appeal, with those attending all heading to a local city bar for a meal and some drinks after Adoration concludes. Cheryl Anthony said the leadership team thought it was important to go to a popular bar, rather than booking a private space for dinner.

“City Compass encourages us not to hide our faith,” she said. “This is a way of giving witness to the joy that Catholicism brings. I’ve had some very interesting conversations with bar managers when trying to book a table for 50!”

Another of the City Compass team, Ann-Marie Boumerhe, said that Father Lewi tapped into a desire for community amongst city workers who attend the Cathedral for Mass. “We would see familiar faces at daily Mass and know they were people like us; Catholics who work in the city who want to grow in their faith” Ann-Marie said. “City Compass gave us the ability to introduce ourselves to each other, become friends, share our joys and our challenges and find support.”

When the COVID-19 lockdowns meant that City Compass could not continue in person, the team started hosting Saturday evening games nights and Rosary prayers online, which were also very well attended. Father Lewi makes it clear that the online activity was not supposed to replace City Compass during lockdown, but it was a way of ensuring the group stayed connected. Ben Conolly was the quizmaster behind the events.

“Father Lewi has always stressed ‘fulfilling a need.’ We began City Compass because he saw and responded to that need. When people were facing lockdown without an end, we saw a need for community and prayer,” said Ben. “People really took to it; we consistently saw 30-40 people for our trivia nights and more than 400 people joined us and the Cathedral priests for our Rosary nights.”

Although it has only been running for a short time, City Compass is already bearing visible fruits. One young man had his vocation confirmed while attending City Compass and is now in formation for the Dominicans, married people attend, several young couples preparing for marriage, and some of our non-Catholic friends who attend have since enrolled in the RCIA. In addition, many participants have found a new group of friends who support and strengthen them in their Catholic faith.

While it was initially intended for young professionals and other Catholics working in or around the city, it is open to everyone, with some regulars travelling more than an hour each week to attend.

Asked about its success, Father Lewi displays his characteristic humility. “I’m not offering anything special myself,” he says. “People have always been attracted to authentic Catholic teaching and true worship. What is said between Jesus and a person in the silence of their heart during Adoration is more powerful than anything I can say to them.”

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