A New Shepherd & Apostle for Lancaster!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome (back) to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

That sage of the Old Testament, Qoheleth, in a famous passage remarked that “for everything there is a time and a season” (Qoh.3:1-9), and his words came to mind on Monday as the name of the next Bishop of Lancaster, Canon Paul Swarbrick, was announced in Rome and at the same time here in Lancaster.

At the same time, the Holy Father Pope Francis accepted my resignation as the sixth Bishop of Lancaster, and hence the imminence of my retirement. For the family of the Diocese, therefore, both clergy and people, there is now set in motion a time of change and transition.

The prospect of change can be unsettling for some, while for others it presents new opportunities and a different way of doing things. Pray for those who are asked to manage this for the Diocese and, of course, for the Bishop-Elect as he prepares himself in prayer and begins to learn about the ministry and issues facing him in the Diocese.

The appointment of a new bishop to be father of a diocese, which is indeed a very human process, is nevertheless an ongoing sign of Christ’s care for His people, and of His promise made good that he would remain with His Church as long as time lasts.

It will be incumbent on the new bishop, as on every bishop, to ensure that Christ’s faithful always have, in spite of many human constraints, access to the sacraments, have the Word of God preached to them, and that the Catholic faith is handed on in its integrity. These are the tasks I have myself endeavoured to carry out as well as possible in my ten years of episcopal ministry.

The presence and ministry of the bishop serves to remind his people of their living link with the wider and universal Church, for the bishop forms part of the world-wide college of bishops, united under Pope Francis, their Head, and the successor of Peter.

While the person of the bishop may change, the office and ministry does not.  By his episcopal ordination a new bishop enters into the chain of apostolic succession, and is a living guarantee of that bond with Christ and the original Twelve Apostles which spans two-thousand years of history and the entirety of the world and every culture.

All that Christ taught and did, has come to us from and with the authority of those first apostles, and the bishop’s responsibility is to continue to safeguard what we technically call “the deposit of faith” for the flock entrusted to him.

So the Bishop-Elect Mgr Paul Swarbrick as he assumes his office will stand in continuity with that long and venerable apostolic tradition and burden of office which he now inherits. As an ambassador for Christ he will speak words of faith – which are both affirming and challenging – to the people Christ entrusts to him in the Diocese of Lancaster, and they in turn will receive him in a spirit of faith.

Mgr Paul will bring his own personal gifts to his role as chief shepherd, and the sacramental grace of Christ will enhance those natural gifts so as to face the very real challenges of such an office in pastoral charge of this part of the Church of Christ – priests and people, deacons and religious communities – old and new.

Shortly, I will step down as Bishop of Lancaster but will confidently hand on my ‘cathedra’, my seat and the symbol of my teaching office, to my successor who will ensure that Christ the Teacher will continue to preside over and instruct in love the hearts of the faithful people of our Local Church of Lancaster.

With my prayers and best wishes to each of you who read this Blog!  As we make our Lenten journey and beyond, may we continue to seek holiness above all, wherever we are, whoever we are and whatever we do!

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Apostolic Administrator – Diocese of Lancaster

Calling all Pilgrims – Lourdes 2018!

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The principal patron of the Diocese of Lancaster is Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast day occurs this Sunday, and throughout the Diocese there is deep affection for Our Blessed Lady under this title.  For many years, almost since the beginning of the Diocese, there has been an annual Lancaster pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine in Lourdes, in South West France. For all who go on this pilgrimage, both young and old, the sick and the healthy, it is a unique spiritual experience they never forget.

At an estimate, five million pilgrims are said to make the journey each year to honour Our Lady and St. Bernadette in Lourdes. It should be noted that in Britain Lancaster is not unique in having an annual Lourdes pilgrimage, for most dioceses in England & Wales also go there annually on pilgrimage, not to mention those in Scotland and Ireland. What, I wonder, is the enduring appeal of a Lourdes pilgrimage and its particular attraction especially for teenagers and adolescents? Why do so many resolve to return year after year?

Part of the explanation is to be found in the distinctive atmosphere which pervades the demesne, and the spot where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette. There is a sense when at the grotto of being in touch with the ‘holy’ or with something ‘other’, quite different from our normal everyday experience.

The grotto possesses something of a magnetic attraction for pilgrims, and that is in truth the focal point of Lourdes. Simply to be present where Our Lady once stood and spoke to Bernadette transcends words. The pilgrim is put in touch with another and surpassing reality, which refreshes and reassures, and might be tempted to make his or her own the words uttered by the Patriarch Jacob long ago, ‘Truly the Lord is in this place! …..How awesome is this place, this is none other than the house of God, and is the gate of heaven’ (Gen. 28:16-17).

Another reason why Lourdes holds such an appeal is the central place given to the sick. They are given an importance and consideration which is impressive to witness. Their often frail condition betokens a wonderful faith in Our Lady and her power to comfort and strengthen, and to bring them closer to her Son who himself knew the pain of suffering. Lourdes teaches us that each person, irrespective of their condition, is infinitely precious in the sight of God.

For our young people, such devoted care and the pride of place accorded to the sick can be an eye-opening experience, and a contrast to the often secular environment they meet back home. We learn to think of others when in Lourdes, and put their interests first rather than our own.  This special place brings the best out of us!

To those of you who have not yet been to Lourdes, I strongly recommend that you consider joining our Diocesan Pilgrimage in July, and assure you that you will not regret it. Others of you who have been there already on pilgrimage would be very welcome to come again and join our diocesan family in prayer. Finally, do encourage our young people to think about Lourdes, because it will prove a wonderful antidote to all the many temptations and counter-attractions with which they are confronted today.

I wish everyone a very happy feast of Our Lady of Lourdes!

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Clothing Five New Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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On Monday of this past week I was invited to preside at the clothing of five young sisters of different nationalities who belong to a recently-founded congregation, and whose full title is Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest.

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The Mass of Sacred Investiture took place in the church of St. Michael and Cajetan, Florence, in Tuscany. The novitiate of the sisters is situated in the countryside not far from the city, and close to the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest. We are blessed to have sisters and priests of both Institutes with us in Preston.

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The ancient rite of religious clothing was a deeply moving ceremony for all present, not least for the young women themselves, their parents and families.

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The overriding theme of such a liturgy is that of betrothal, and the offering of oneself to Christ as a bride, to belong to him alone.

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This bridal concept has deep roots in Sacred Scripture, for the prophets often referred to Israel in marital terms as the bride of God. St. Paul also taught that the Church is the bride of Christ, made pure and spotless through his death on the cross.

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The procession to the altar of these five young women, escorted by their fathers, and arrayed as brides in wedding dresses was both a powerful symbol of their desire to belong exclusively to Christ, and a vivid reminder to the rest of of us that Christ must come first in our lives, whatever our own particular vocation.

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Assembled close to the altar, the novices, holding candles, in a few short responses individually expressed their desire before me, the bishop, and the congregation, to be a Sister Adorer.

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Before each sister received the veil, there was a symbolic cutting of the hair, which again was a deeply poignant moment, and a sign of that surrender and submission to Christ entailed in assuming the veil.

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The young novices then retired to lay aside their bridal dresses and returned to the church fully clothed in their new religious habits and white veils, a further sign that for them a new way of life had now begun.

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As the liturgy of this rite of clothing progressed I was struck by the counter-sign expressed in it. Christ still calls and his voice continues to be heard in the hearts of young people, especially in these newly clothed novices, and I reflected in wonder at their faith and generosity in setting out on such an arduous and challenging vocation.

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The city of Florence has a rich cultural, civil and religious history, and this lovely and hope-filled ceremony of the clothing of five young women marked a small but significant page in the long story of this fine city. We assure these young novices of our good wishes and the support of our prayers as they progress in the novitiate of the Sisters Adorers.

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A ceremony of another kind took place on Thursday evening in St. Clare’s parish church, Fulwood, Preston, with the blessing and official opening of a new narthex, which is a very spacious entrance area leading into the church proper. The construction of this narthex was some time in planning before eventually being brought to completion. The packed congregation of parishioners young and old was an expression of their interest and delight at the addition of such a fine new amenity to the church facilities.

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The church is close to the Royal Preston Hospital and this new enhanced space with its glass doors allows passers-by to catch sight of the sanctuary and the tabernacle, a visible reminder of the Lord’s presence among us. As the parish priest explained, the name Clare comes from the word for light or clarity, so the new narthex will enable the light of Christ to shine even brighter from St. Clare’s.

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Warm congratulations to all who have worked and supported this worthy project!

Best wishes and prayers for the week ahead,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

The Glory of Christ’s Power over Evil

My dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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When he began his ministry of preaching and teaching Our Blessed Lord had a startling impact. Those who listened to His words and observed His actions had never witnessed anything like it.

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The Evangelist Mark relates in today’s gospel that the Lord’s teaching had a freshness and originality to which they were unaccustomed and which caught their attention and imagination like no other. We might say that they were blown away by it!

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The same Lord Jesus speaks to us in the Scriptures Sunday after Sunday. His words remain always fresh and life-giving, because He Himself is the Word of God, and is truth itself. What is required of us, as Christ says elsewhere, is to have ears to hear.

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In our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy the Lord God promised Moses that another prophet would come who will speak God’s words and to whom the people must listen. That prophet is Christ, sent by God and come to us in the fullness of time, who has words of life for us in the twenty-first century.

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We are inundated each day by countless words, ideas and images of all kinds, but they are transitory and fleeting, whereas the word of Christ remains ever vigorous and energising for His people. Like those people long ago, through carefully listening, will we allow ourselves to be startled and come away deeply impressed, having just listened to the priceless words Christ speak to us?

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The people of Christ’s day, witnessing his actions, realised that with him an unheard of power for good had appeared among them. Demonic possession and the sinister power of evil which can possess and destroy a person was something to be greatly feared – it still is!

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St. Mark recounts how the demons recognised that one more powerful than they had come, and was in fact the Holy One of God.

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Hostile and wicked powers were now confronted by a higher authority, that of the Son of God in the flesh. Throughout his public life the Lord Jesus would demonstrate His divine power in so many ways, and which would culminate in his destruction of the evil of sin and death through His glorious resurrection from the dead. Let us open ourselves to the touch of that divine power each time we come together to pray and worship at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we do so, we will have nothing to fear.

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The Fathers of the Church were fond of describing the Church as a ship, a kind of Noah’s ark, which brings those on board across the sea of life, with all its dangers and temptations, safely to the harbour of our final home with God.

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By listening carefully to Christ’s words and allowing him to nourish us with his sacraments, we will ensure for ourselves a safe passage across life’s often turbulent seas. As we hear the story in today’s Mass of Jesus’s words and deeds, may we too discover that here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it!”

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Until next week – Let us pray for each other and may Almighty God protect and bless you,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

The Lord Still Calling Young Men to be His Priests!

Dear Friends,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

As we listen and reflect on the readings at today’s Sunday Mass, we see how the Lord requires the help of generous disciples to help Him in his work of bringing the news of His Father’s love and care to the world. And it is a requirement which still stands!

In his Confessions, or spiritual autobiography, St. Augustine of Hippo long ago remarked that if no good men came forward we would be unable to receive the sacraments.  The words of this great saint continue to ring true.

The Evangelist Mark in his very crisp style relates the call of the two sets of brothers and fishermen by the Sea of Galilee. The Lord Jesus was walking by and called them to follow Him. We are told that their reaction was spontaneous and prompt: they left their nets there and then and accept the invitation to become fishermen of an altogether different kind. Along with the other apostles Jesus would call, Peter and his fellow-fishermen would form part of His closest collaborators and friends, the ‘college of the Twelve.’

With the exception of Judas, these disciples would remain faithful and committed to the person and work of the Lord. Are there young men in our parishes today prepared to hear and act on the invitation which the Lord extends?  And are parents, families, and parish communities generous and willing enough to pray for them and encourage them in accepting the Lord’s call?

Put simply, the Church of today, and especially tomorrow, greatly needs the generosity of young men, and those who surround and influence them, if the good news of the Lord Jesus is to be heard and His grace-filled sacraments be made accessible to the people He died on the cross for. God’s mercy and forgiveness came to the people of Nineveh thanks to the preaching of Jonah. His words made a difference, for God spoke through him despite his initial reluctance to go and bring words of healing to the Ninevites.

Where would we be without the inspired writings of the four Evangelists or the letters of St. Paul the apostle? We are the heirs of two–thousand years of witness of saints and martyrs who have ensured that the faith has been faithfully transmitted to us. But remember that each one of these had to make their own definite answer to the call of Christ.

Our pressing need in the Diocese of Lancaster is for young men to listen to Christ and offer themselves as his future priests. Ultimately, of course, it is Christ who first invites – but He uses so many others to facilitate young people in answering His call.

Can each one of us in the Diocese make possible again in our day the response of the young Isaiah to God’s question in the Temple at Jerusalem?  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “whom shall I send to this people”, and I said, “here am I!  Send me.” (Is. 6:8)

Until next week – let us pray for each other and for priestly vocations,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

We’re in Ordinary Time – not so ordinary!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog the first in 2018!

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With the Christmas season now behind us, we have entered what the Church’s liturgical calendar calls “Ordinary Time”, that is until the arrival of Lent in just over a month’s time.  Christmas and the days following have offered us worshippers a rich variety of liturgical feasts, what might be called an ‘embarrassment of riches’.

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We began on Christmas Day with the Lord’s birthday, followed immediately by the feast of St. Stephen, then St. John the Evangelist and, finally in December, that of the Holy Innocents. New Year’s Day is a solemn feast, dedicated to ‘Mary, Mother of God’. On the 6th January – twelve days after Christmas – we have the very significant feast of the Epiphany, sometimes called ‘little Christmas.’  Finally, and perhaps slightly overlooked this year, occurs the Baptism of the Lord.

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So the last few weeks have seen quite an array of liturgical feasts and solemnities, and so understandably we are moving into a quieter period, Ordinary time. Yet it would be a mistake and a misunderstanding of the liturgy to imagine that somehow God in Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, are only moderately active in Ordinary time. Indeed, in 2018 the Lord promises a year of blessings!

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Christ is ever present in his Church. In a favourite image of the apostle Paul, Christ is the Head of the Church which is his body, and he never ceases to nurture and cherish her. His Incarnation and Resurrection are not events celebrated at Christmas and Easter only; their power and grace-filled effectiveness remain constant and ever accessible to the believer, in season and out of season.

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During the high-points of the Church’s liturgical year we renew in a more intense way our devotion to the great mysteries of our faith: the Lord’s birth among us in Bethlehem, his passion, death and resurrection at Easter, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost.

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We draw on these reserves, as it were, which help to nourish our faith in the season of Ordinary time.  We might permit ourselves the thought that we need a rest from these ‘high octane’ liturgical celebrations of the Christmas season, and the calmer atmosphere of the next few weeks provides us with that respite.

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Yet we need to remember that when we come together for Mass at any time of the year we do so through the power of the Holy Spirit, and Christ is waiting to speak to us through the proclamation of his word in the readings at Mass.

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With the offering of bread and wine and the rite of consecration we and all our many endeavours become part of his sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of the world.  No Mass therefore is ever ordinary. As Christmas and all its wonder recedes into the past, the challenge for the Church and every single believer is to live out the implications of the truths which Christmas has just set before us.

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Through his cross and resurrection Christ has ushered in a new creation. We have become a new creation through our baptism into Christ. St. Paul says that the old order has passed away and everything has been made new. May we all experience something of that newness, Christ’s newness, as we enter Ordinary time!

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Until next week – May God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

My Christmas Message

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for Christmas!

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The feast of Christmas is always one of hope and joy for us Catholics and Christians. Each year we greet with the reverence of faith the child born of Mary in the lowly surroundings of that stable in Bethlehem, for we know that he is no ordinary child. Our faith teaches us that this newly-born infant has already had another birth, that of the Son of God in eternity. Our Christmas liturgy and the carols we sing try to capture the astounding truth that in this child God has come down to earth.

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Christmas is therefore a celebration of God’s love for the world. In him whom St. John splendidly calls “the Word made flesh”, God has shown his solidarity with us. God’s Word has taken on human form, sharing our history, and enriching our lives beyond measure. For the journey of a human life is also a journey travelled by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our tears and our challenges have also been his, and the little child whom we venerate in the manger would have his challenges and know the dark night of death, only to transform it for ever in his glorious resurrection from the dead.

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As we look with wonder on Mary and her new-born Son in the crib, ever such an appealing image, we cannot but think of those mothers and their children in many parts of our world who are displaced from their homes through disaster, war, discrimination or the like.  We remember them all prayerfully especially at this holy season, asking God’s mercy and protection on them, while doing what we can to ease their plight.

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The birth of Jesus Christ has given humanity a whole new dignity. Each individual can justly claim the Son of God as his or her brother. As the New Testament expresses it, “He is the firstborn of many brethren.”  This infant embodies an unshakeable hope for all of us, because in the fullness of time through the example of his ministry and teaching he would accept and share death to redeem us all, and open the vision of eternal life through his resurrection and return to his heavenly Father.  And our hope is that, like his, our journey will end by joining him in the glory of heaven.

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A blessed and hope-filled Christmas to you all!

As ever in Christ our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. I am pictured above with my predecessor, as Bishop of Lancaster, Emeritus Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue whom I visited last week in Co. Cork, Ireland.

N.B. The Bishop’s Blog takes a break now for the holiday period.