My weekend began on Saturday morning with attendance at Lancaster University Court, a very representative body, which meets each year and during which those ultimately responsible for the university (Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor etc., and others) give a general update on the past year, progress achieved, and challenges to the university in the immediate and medium future.
Lancaster University, now celebrating its golden jubilee of foundation, has been fortunate in having the distinguished Sir Chris Bonnington as its Chancellor for the past ten years, and who now completes his tenure. The Diocese of Lancaster has long connections with the University and has invested greatly in the Chaplaincy Centre there over the years so it is with great pleasure to note how the University continues to thrive and hold its own in what have been challenging economic times.
Later on Saturday evening I began Visitation in Preston at the linked parishes of St. Anthony’s, Fulwood, and Holy Family, Ingol. I was present for the Saturday Vigil Masses in both places, speaking briefly at the end, and then celebrated Mass in each church on the Sunday morning.
It was a pleasure to meet and greet with parishioners and the warmth of Catholic welcome for the bishop does cheer the spirits!
Both parishes combined to provide an excellent meal in Ingol at the end of the morning Masses, and the smooth manner in which the parishes have united and cooperated in the last year reflects greatly both on the leadership of the parish priest and the parishioners themselves. All are to be congratulated on their generosity of spirit.
I paid a visit later on Sunday afternoon to a number of senior parishioners now living in sheltered accommodation. Inevitably, as I came away I realised I had gained so much more from these lovely people, many of whom had lived long lives, than I had to give.
It was the turn of the Holy Family and St. Anthony’s school on Monday. There was a tangible warmth of welcome from the staff of both schools, from the children in particular.
I suppose children do not often get the opportunity to meet and talk to the Bishop, and even ask him questions!
The hours spent in Holy Family and St. Anthony’s schools passed all too quickly, and the children of St. Anthony’s brought the day and a pleasing parish Visitation to a close with a thoughtful assembly on the Lord calming the storm.
Tuesday morning found me in another school, this time Our Lady Star of the Sea, St. Annes-on-Sea. My visit to this excellent Catholic School again passed all too quickly. It was good to meet and share thoughts with the staff, and offer a word of appreciation for all their hard work for the children in their care.
The centrepiece of the morning visit was the beautifully presented assembly on the Annunciation. I was great struck by the dignified manner and prayerfulness of the children taking part in the assembly, as well as the wrapt attention of the remainder of the school and their delight in singing the lovely Marian hymn, ‘As I kneel before You.’ As I remarked, a charming and most satisfying couple of hours passed all too quickly in Star of the Sea School.
Our Diocesan Trustees had their monthly meeting on Tuesday afternoon, and again I express my thanks and deep appreciation to them for their generous commitment of time and skill to the diocesan church of Lancaster.
The approach of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes which falls next Tuesday 11th February, patroness of the diocese of Lancaster, turns our mind to the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes in July.
Our youth pilgrims, both those going for the first time and others who have been on previous Lourdes pilgrimages, met on Thursday evening to start their monthly preparation for this important event in their young lives. It is extremely pleasing to report that over eighty of our youth have signed for this year’s pilgrimage under the auspices of the Diocesan Youth Service, and I met and addressed them as they gathered in Lancaster.
Young people are by nature enthusiastic, but it was impressive to see so many of them take the trouble to travel for this meeting on a cold, wet and dark February evening. I spoke to them about the special, even unique, place that Lourdes was, and of the millions of pilgrims who come each year, with pride of place given to the sick and those with physical and other difficulties of any kind.
I also assured them that Lourdes would be a life-changing experience, perhaps not in the way we understand the term, and that Our Lady does not allow any pilgrimage to leave empty-handed, i.e. without being spiritually blessed.
These monthly preparation gatherings will enable our young people to learn something of the story of Lourdes, about the peasant girl and now a saint, Bernadette, and its abiding attraction for Catholics of all outlooks, and indeed for those of other faiths and those with no religion but who are in search of some meaning and purpose in their lives.
Please keep these young pilgrims in your prayers, as we give thanks to God for their faith and generosity, and wonder at the attraction of pilgrimage which is undoubtedly one of the ‘signs of the times.’
Until next week – All good wishes and prayers,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster