A Roman Reflection

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I have spent the last week in Rome with two of my brother bishops on our yearly Visitation of the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Beda College, both of which train students for the priesthood in the English speaking world.

We do this work on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, the body of bishops ultimately responsible for these two colleges.

The deeply historic English College is quite central to the city of Rome, while the Beda lies more in the suburbs, opposite in fact to the wonderful basilica of St. Pauls-outside-the Walls.

Each one of us has his or her own favourite church which speaks to us in a unique way. For me, the annual Visitation of the Roman Colleges would be incomplete if I did not succeed in a visit to the basilica of St. Pauls-outside-the Walls.

What a most inspiring basilica and house of God!  What strikes the visitor to St. Pauls is the grandeur and spaciousness of the building. It has the effect of stopping the human spirit as you gaze around and, certainly for me, evoking a sense of wonder, even awe.  An excellent Virtual Reality Tour of the Basilica can be found here.

The atmosphere of stillness and silence, undisturbed by few visitors, leads a person to ponder, albeit briefly, on the grandeur and majesty of almighty God. The human achievement in the construction of such a measured and well-ordered building to the glory of God stands as a wonderful expression of what humanity is capable of.

In addition to the Papal Basilica, the complex includes a very ancient Benedictine Abbey, restored by Odon of Cluny in 936.  This Abbey remains active today.  The Benedictine Monks of the ancient Abbey, founded near the tomb of the Apostle by Pope Gregory II (715-731), attend to the ministry of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the promotion of special ecumenical events.

The basilica stands on the site of the martyrdom of the apostle Paul and therefore marks a precious link with the apostolic age and the beginnings of our faith. Unlike the other major Roman basilicas, or so it seems to me, St. Pauls-outside-the-Walls does not have the same volume of visitors and tourists, and consequently retains a particularly prayerful atmosphere.

A notable feature is the depiction in art form of all the Popes, going back to St. Peter himself. Yet the basilica is restrained in terms of art and statuary, and this allows the mind to wander, wonder, and glimpse in some small way a sense of the mystery of God enshrined in this most noble of earthly constructions.

Here I seem to find a rare peace and serenity for the short time I spend there. The dimensions of the basilica do make a person seem small, but at the same time ushers us into the presence of the One infinitely greater than we can imagine and causes the passing pilgrim to stand and silently wonder.

Before I departed, I lit a candle for everyone in the Diocese of Lancaster, and I left the basilica satisfied and at peace. A worthwhile visit indeed!

Until next week!

May God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

The Rite of Election & the First Week of Lent

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Dear Friends,

Welcome to this week’s post on the Bishop’s Blog!

Last week, I travelled to our diocesan youth centre, Castlerigg Manor, near Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District. I spent twenty-four hours there on a Visitation there with the Youth Service staff and a group of young people who were on a week’s retreat.

It was good to be with and hear modern youth at first hand, and this particular group of young people from Blackpool were impressively well-behaved. The tops of the nearby peaks were covered in snow which added to the attraction of Castlerigg, especially to those from urban areas.

I was particularly glad to have the occasion to read to the young people my Pastoral Letter for the Beginning of Lent. I know, too, that the Director and staff gave a good push to our diocesan recruitment for the youth section of our diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes.  This is a major effort of ours in these weeks. Young people who want to join this should go the Castlerigg website here.

On Saturday afternoon, I presided at the Rite of Election in our Cathedral church in Lancaster – which was well attended by those adults – across the Diocese – wishing to baptised this Easter in their parish communities – and also those who are to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The Rite of Election is a significant step for those who want to be received into the Catholic Church – preparing to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist at Easter.

It is also an occasion of joy to these individuals’ families, friends and local fellow-parishioners and clergy who work to accompany their journey of faith.

After the candidates have completed their formation in the Catholic faith, the Rite of Election is celebrated by the local Bishop who chooses them and elects them in the name of the Lord and of the local Church (for us the Diocese of Lancaster) to which they belong.

The call, the election, of the Church embodies in human voice the call of God to which the candidates have already responded.

They are then asked to express their response here and now in the presence of the Church “Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist?” They respond “We do.”

The rest of my weekend was taken up with Parish Visitation to St. Bernadette’s parish, Bispham (Blackpool), which now forms part of St. Kentigern’s Blackpool Deanery.

I celebrated the Saturday Vigil Mass and met the people afterwards, then at a well-attended Sunday morning Mass I Confirmed seven young people from the parish, which always is a source of joy for both families and parishioners, and of course for the newly-Confirmed themselves.

The Mass was followed by a pleasant reception in the church hall which allowed everyone to meet and mingle and to enjoy what was a lovely and highly satisfying occasion.

I joined the parish priest and representatives of the parish for a buffet afterwards before setting-out with two SVP members on a visitation of some housebound parishioners. As I have often noted, these visits are special moments and the welcome extended to me as Bishop is warm and genuine.

The loyalty of family members in caring for those of advanced years was very touching, and a further reminder of an unsung but deep Christian faith expressed in daily care for one another, and often without complaint.  The Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, continues to pour out God’s love in the world, especially through love of one’s neighbour. One comes away from such visits both edified and humbled.

My week continued by chairing a meeting of our diocesan trustees who are ultimately responsible for the well-being of the Diocese. The individual members, both clerical and lay, give generously of their time and talents to ensure the sound management of the Diocese of Lancaster. Their contribution to the life of the local Church is greatly appreciated.

Finally, the Council of Priests had the first of their bi-annual meetings on Wednesday. This body is representative of the priests of the Diocese and whose existence is prescribed by canon law. Among other things, they bring the concerns of the different deaneries to the table, approve the diocesan budget for the year, and discuss with the Bishop issues principally of a pastoral nature which bear on the life of the parishes.

This priestly gathering also enhances and encourages priestly fraternity over shared food afterwards. It is always good when priests get together and share one another’s company, and experience that unique bond of the priesthood.

Until next week – May God bless you each and all of you reading this,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

My Pastoral Letter to mark the Beginning of Lent

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A PASTORAL LETTER

FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

TO MARK THE BEGINNING OF LENT

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 4/5 March 2017 – The First Sunday of Lent –
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1 March 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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With the coming of the season of Lent, the Church now begins her time of spiritual preparation for the solemn days of Holy Week and the greatest of all feasts, that of Easter. In setting apart these forty days the Church is following the example of our divine Lord who, as we just heard in the gospel, spent the same period of time in the wilderness, in prayer, fasting and self-restraint, through struggling with temptation, just before He began His public ministry. Lent, therefore, is a hallowed and grace-filled time for all of us who wish to follow Christ in His Church as His disciples.

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The season of Lent sharpens our awareness of the needs of our poorer brothers and sisters and of our Christian obligation to assist them in any way we can. Yet we must not forget that Lent is also intended to be a time of personal growth and for developing our own spiritual life. Through acts of self-denial and by forgoing unnecessary pleasures, we are uniting ourselves closely with our Lord in His temptation and struggle. By resisting the three temptations of Satan, Christ was rejecting purely material satisfaction, the attraction of celebrity status, and the human temptation to force the hand of the Lord our God. The Son of God is here teaching us that walking the ways of God in this life will often involve struggle and hard choices. This special season of Lent, therefore, is a grace-filled invitation from God to look carefully at ourselves, and to rediscover what really matters in our lives. Lent is meant to be a time of spiritual fruitfulness.

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The Scriptural readings at today’s Mass sketch the drama which is at the heart of our faith. The original disobedience of Adam and Eve and their rejection of God’s will has left us all wounded in some way. In the fullness of time God has taken pity on us by sending His beloved Son to heal that deep-seated wound. Where the sin of Adam abounded, the grace of Christ abounded even more. Almighty God has refused to let sin and evil have the last word. The Son of God through His death and resurrection has restored to humanity what has been lost. The sacred time of Lent is a precious opportunity for each one of us personally to make Christ’s redemption our very own. Those practices traditionally associated with Lent – prayer, fasting, almsgiving – will help us in this regard.

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We are only too aware of our weakness and our failure in dealing with temptation, but Lent should reassure us. The Fathers of the Church taught that the Good Samaritan of the parable was in fact Christ Himself, come to heal and bind up the wounds of a bruised and broken humanity, pouring in the oil of His love and mercy. We meet that Good Samaritan each time we attend Mass and receive any of the sacraments He has left to His Church, especially the Holy Eucharist.  I also urge you, dear brothers and sisters during Lent, to make a good Confession; there as always, you will find the gentle Christ awaiting you with mercy and forgiveness.

 

 

As we live through uncertain times at present, let us be of good heart and full of confidence, keeping our gaze firmly fixed on Christ, the pioneer and architect of our faith. As your Bishop, I pray that this unique season of Lent may be one of divine grace and blessing for all of us, and that we will celebrate Easter with joy and in the enduring hope which comes from the Lord’s resurrection.

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Assuring you of my prayers, and with my blessing,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Come on our 2017 Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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The recent feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11th February, and the celebration at the shrine of the World Day of the Sick, turns our minds once more to our Annual Diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage which takes place this year from 21st-28th July.

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This pilgrimage always marks a highlight in the diocesan calendar, and this year particularly so, since we will be celebrating 90 years since our very first diocesan pilgrimage to this much loved shrine of Our Lady and St. Bernadette.

 

 

Just think of the many pilgrims, people, priests and bishops, who have made the journey to Lourdes in those ninety years!

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Those of you who will join us in Lourdes this year will be following a well-trodden path of faith, in the footsteps of those faithful pilgrims for whom Lourdes has been a sanctuary of healing, hope, and refreshment, both spiritual and physical.

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Each year the sanctuary authorities suggest a pastoral theme for pilgrims to reflect on during their time in Lourdes, and this year they have chosen the words of Our Lady from her canticle of thanksgiving, the Magnificat, ‘The Almighty has done great things for me.’

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Each single pilgrim can surely echo those sentiments of Mary, because just to be in Lourdes and to form part of that great number of pilgrims from around the world is truly a grace from heaven.

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The atmosphere of prayer and devotion at Lourdes, the different Masses and religious exercises, and the palpable affection for the grotto, the place where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette, cannot but leave us touched. It is hard to convey exactly the spirit of Lourdes to those who have never been there on pilgrimage, and people have to experience it first hand for themselves.

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Lourdes has an extraordinary impact on the youth, especially those teenagers who go there for the first time.  While in Lourdes they get an entirely different perspective on life, at variance with the world of their daily routine. They rub shoulders with sick pilgrims who they witness being treated with the greatest care and respect. They become aware that Lourdes belongs to everyone and discover just how much they feel at home within the demesne.

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Our Lady does something to our young people, some even describe as ‘a little bit of heaven’, and their week-long pilgrimage will have changed them, even if they cannot fully explain in what way.

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So to those of you, teenagers, who are reading this blog and have never been to Lourdes, do consider becoming part of our Lancaster pilgrimage in this its ninetieth year. Start fundraising now and you won’t regret it!   Get in touch with our Diocesan Youth Service for more information.

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I broaden my appeal those who are no longer teenagers and have never been to Lourdes. Perhaps this is the year in which Our Lady is calling you personally to join us in pilgrimage, and to walk that well-worn path like so many before us. And hopefully, like Our Blessed Lady, you also will be able to say, ‘The Almighty has done great things for me!’
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Until next week.

As ever in Christ,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Looking forward to The Rite of Election

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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On the first Saturday of Lent, 4 March 2017, I will be presiding at the Rite of Election in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster.  The Rite of Election represents an important moment in the life of the diocesan Church, for it is the occasion when those who are to be baptised or received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter are officially presented to me as the Chief Shepherd of the Diocese.

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I find it both remarkable and humbling to see how God’s grace is actually at work in the lives of ordinary people from the different parts of the diocese as they journey and find their way into the family of God’s Church.

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I encourage all our parish priests and their parishioners to support, by their presence, those individuals among them who are making what is a life-changing decision, either to receive baptism or enter into full Communion with the Church.

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The Rite of Election, which has its roots in the liturgical practice and catechesis of the early Church, has been rediscovered in recent decades, as it were, and is now a standard feature in the cathedral of every diocese of the latin Church at the beginning of Lent.  Those who through God’s grace finally arrive to be presented at the Rite of Election have often wonderful and edifying stories to tell of their spiritual journey.

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Many will have come to the Catholic faith through the witness and example of others, be it husband or wife, or the influence of friends, even perhaps attending Mass for one reason or another.  Others will speak of the opposition they would have encountered were they to contemplate this step towards Catholicism earlier in their lives, whereas now the time is right.  Then, again, there are those who have long wrestled with personal doubts and misgivings about taking such a significant step.  Each individual will have her or his own very particular story to tell.

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The catechetical programme or period for assisting those wishing to become Catholics is called the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) and apart from gradually initiating converts into Catholicism, can serve the purpose of enriching the understanding and faith of those more established Catholics who are accompanying them.  Few would disagree that as Catholics today we all need to grow in the knowledge of our faith and be able to explain and proclaim it to a world often anxious to hear the Word of God.

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The season of Lent is a call to every member of the Church to reflect before God on the things that really matters in our lives, and on what belonging to Christ really means. However, while we endeavour to practice our faith every more devoutly, let us never forget above all to give thanks to the Lord for the gift of belonging to the Church.

Catechumens who will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass are presented to Bishop David Choby during the Rite of Election, held Sunday, Feb. 22, at St. Henry Church.

Almighty God has been infinitely gracious to us for, as St. Peter expresses it, ‘He has called us out of darkness into his own wonderful light.’

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Please pray for those from our own Diocese of Lancaster taking part in the Rite of Election in our cathedral this Lent, and in all cathedrals throughout the world, that they too may rejoice in the sublime and unmerited gift of God’s grace of belonging to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

 

Let this celebration be an occasion of reflection and responsive action, too, for each and every ‘inactive’ Catholic to return home to the heart of the family of the Church where a wonderful welcome will be waiting for them.

Until next week,

As ever in Christ,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

A Pastoral Letter on the Changing Shape of Parishes in the Diocese of Lancaster

Dear Friends,

For my blog this week please read the important Pastoral Letter (below).

Thank you, as always, for your great support and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster


A PASTORAL LETTER

FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

FOR THE SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2017)

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Appointed to be read aloud and distributed at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 11/12 February 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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As many of you will be aware, I have continued with the gradual and yet most necessary task of pastoral planning for the shape of our Diocese by the linking and merging of parishes as circumstances have suggested. In doing this, with your support, I have aimed to build-upon the diocesan Fit for Mission?[1] Review that completed its work just as I arrived into the Diocese.  You will, of course, realise from this consultation and the subsequent decisions, that the life of the Church here in the Diocese cannot simply continue without significant changes to the shape of our parishes. Thus, you will understand that we are acting now so as to ensure that the next generation will be able to do God’s work effectively in the years to come.

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I am mindful, too, of the need for us to face, with honesty, the general pastoral scene of smaller, older and scattered congregations worshipping at Mass so faithfully in our Diocese. Consequently, there also seems to be a certain slowing down in financial giving and volunteering in some of our parishes with just a few teenagers and young people involved in parish life. This latter rather painful observation has obvious ramifications for the promotion and fostering of priestly vocations.

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At parish level it is now not so uncommon for parishes to struggle in getting an organist for Sunday Mass, or to have an inadequate numbers of servers, readers etc. or insufficient catechists for children’s liturgy or for the Confirmation programme. Others are struggling with finding a new Safeguarding or Health & Safety representative or to sustain themselves financially. On the other hand, where communities share and come together so much more is possible!

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For so long our Diocese has been blessed with so many home-grown priests. That is no longer the case and, as Bishop, I have to take account of that reality. We have far fewer priests to tend to the still substantial network of parishes crowned in the peak of the pastoral expansion experienced here in the 1970’s.  Undeniably, we do have far too many churches for our present needs and numbers and the financial cost of maintaining and repairing these buildings – some of them more than a century old, is now proving prohibitive for our people and their pastors.

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All of this makes for a particularly challenging and delicate task in matching our personnel with the parishes available.  In fact, in order to maintain our present level of service, in recent years, I have worked to welcome and integrate the ministry of a number of overseas priests who have taken responsibility for a number of our parishes and diocesan roles.

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It has certainly been worth the effort, as I estimate that without their service some 8-10 parishes would have had to close in my time as Diocesan Bishop.

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In the southern part of the Diocese there is still the luxury of multiple Sunday Masses in different churches – many at the same or similar time – to choose from, all within reasonable if not easy-reach from each other.  Such widespread availability of Masses and churches will not be able to continue indefinitely, and either me or my successor will have to make many more changes to the current parish configuration and this will call upon your understanding, flexibility and spirit of sacrifice.

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It seems increasingly important that each and every parish:

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  • continue and strengthen its effort in the promotion of vocations to the Priesthood, through prayer, encouragement, and especially Eucharistic adoration
  • refocus and reaffirm its pastoral priorities – so as to ensure that as well as sound liturgy at Mass we provide some concrete outreach to the poor and the lapsed, have fruitful relations with our parish school(s), have provision for Catholic young people and good sacramental catechesis
  • look beyond its immediate boundaries, so as to share talents and resources with neighbouring parishes – including – as a matter of urgency – a better coordination of Mass times
  • ensure a high level of collaboration for service among parishioners – without neglecting the gift of the priestly leadership for each community.
  • check if it needs to make any necessary changes to become more financially and pastorally sustainable – with a renewed openness to linking and merging so as to eventually form larger and more vibrant parishes

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I have no wish to paint a gloomy picture here. Far from it; as well as celebrating the many gifts and talents of our committed clergy and parishioners, I want to let you know that painstaking efforts have been made to welcome and integrate into the Diocese new and young Religious Communities in Carlisle, Preston, Grasmere and Keswick (at Castlerigg) and soon in Blackpool so that even with fewer priests the presence and witness to the Risen Lord is anchored in varied communities of the Diocese going forward.

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I have tried, too, to ensure that the city of Preston is not left abandoned by the Church – either by securing the ancient legacy of Ladyewell Shrine with the Holy Family Fathers and Brothers of the Youth and the saving of both St Ignatius’ church as a new Cathedral for the new Syro-Malabar Eparchy and the iconic St Walburge’s church – now open for prayer each day under the diligent care of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

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God is drawing us all more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The changes needed will, of course, involve moments of personal loss as some parishes are linked and merged with others and other churches closed – but even these become redemptive when viewed through the eyes of faith.

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Sisters and brothers, I trust this letter has been helpful to appraise you of the serious challenges and fresh opportunities we face as a Diocese at this moment and to enlist your support. Certainly, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit and to trust in the Providence of our heavenly Father, we can indeed follow Christ into the future with the confidence that comes from a deep and lasting faith in Him.

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With my renewed thanks for your great understanding, loyalty and support and with an assurance of my own prayers and a blessing,

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As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

[1] http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Proposals.pdf

 

A Post on Gatherings in Southwark and Birmingham

Dear Friends in Christ,

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

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Two events of some significance which occurred in the past week were the fortieth anniversary Mass of the founding of the Missionaries of St. Paul, which took place in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, last Friday evening, and the overnight meeting in Birmingham on Tuesday and Wednesday of the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales with forty of their Anglican counterparts also from England & Wales.

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The Missionaries of St. Paul (MSPs) are a Nigerian foundation of priests whose mission is to serve the Church worldwide, and consequently they are to be found in many countries. They have a strong presence in the south of England, particularly in the Archdiocese of Southwark where they have pastoral care for a number of parishes, and around forty Nigerian priests concelebrated the Mass for ‘MSP Day’ with me.

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I was particularly happy to join them and give thanks to the Lord on the occasion of their ruby jubilee.  The Diocese of Lancaster has two Missionaries of St. Paul in charge of parishes, for which we are very grateful.

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There has been a remarkable turnabout in the missionary life of the Church over the past decades. Whereas it was once a case of missionaries from these islands travelling to parts of Africa (I was once one of these) and elsewhere to plant the seeds of the gospel and establish the Church, now the tide has turned remarkably and priests from countries of Africa are now assisting the Church in the UK in our time of need.

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The Mass and celebration afterwards in St. George’s, Southwark on Friday night, was a vivid reminder of how Christ’s command to take his gospel to all nations has been warmly embraced and enthusiastically taken up by younger Churches, especially the Nigerian Missionaries of St. Paul. They derive their inspiration of course from that greatest of all missionaries, Paul of Tarsus. I reflected at Friday’s Mass on how the Church continues to renew itself from one generation to another often in an unexpected way, and equally on how Christ’s great commission continues to be taken seriously.

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The joint meeting of Catholic and Anglican Bishops in Birmingham was a further indication of the progress made on the ecumenical journey in England & Wales.  The occasion – the fifth of its kind in the last ten years – helped develop the already friendly relationships between the bishops through reflection and common prayer in the twenty-four hours we shared together.

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It also provided the opportunity to meet other bishops for the first time in an easy and friendly atmosphere. Such a gathering of 41 Anglican and 32 Catholic Bishops would probably not have taken place some decades ago, but thank God that much has changed.

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Talking and listening to one another gave us insights into the common challenges we face as preachers of the gospel in the different parts of England and Wales, and also increased our appreciation of the dedication of bishops of both Churches.

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These meetings aim to foster spiritual communion; to identify and develop programmes of joint witness and mission in this country, both regionally and nationally, while reflecting on the effectiveness of this expression of spiritual communion; they help us bishops to remain informed about the formal dialogue of ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic Commissions)

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Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the meeting, setting the tone for what was a worthwhile overnight gathering.

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During the gathering we were split into regional groupings for joint discussion around the following subjects:

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  • A Reflection on the international scene with a focus on the latest developments of ARCIC led by the co-chairs of that dialogue, Archbishop Bernard Longley and Archbishop David Moxon
  • A Reflection on Europe and the movement of peoples
  • A Reflection on prayer and evangelisation with a brief introduction by Archbishop Welby on the ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ initiative with a response from Cardinal Nichols as to why it is being supported ecumenically.

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We had prayers at different times both in the nearby St. Chad’s Catholic Cathedral and the equally convenient St. Philip’s Anglican Cathedral. A highlight was Evening Prayer and a dinner hosted by the staff and students of St. Mary’s Seminary, Oscott.

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The gracious welcome and excellent hospitality of the seminary made for a very pleasant evening, and another important page in the distinguished history of the Birmingham archdiocesan seminary was turned.

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While obvious obstacles still remain on the long road to full Church unity, we drew fresh heart from just being together in one another’s company as bishops of both communions. The journey seems long but, thank God, we have already travelled some way together!

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Until next week – let us pray for each other,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Photos Credit:

MSP Celebration: Stewart Whyte

Bishops’ Gathering: Marcin Mazur (CBCEW)