Dear Friends of Christ,
Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
The Diocese of Lancaster had the honour, this weekend, of welcoming His Beatitude Cardinal George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, as he celebrated (on the morning of Saturday 3 October 2015) a special Mass (Holy Qurbana) to inaugurate the two personal parishes erected for his Church in Preston (under the patronage of St Alphonsa) and for the rest of the Diocese (under the patronage of Ss Kuriakose Elias Chavara & Euphrasia). These personal parishes are the first for the Syro-Malabar Church in Europe.
The Mass also marked out the liturgical blessing on the historic – and ‘saved’ church and presbytery at St. Ignatius’, Preston which now serves as the worship, social and catechetical centre for the Syro-Malabar Catholics across the city and area.
Of particular joy is that during the course of the celebrations at St Ignatius’, the Major Archbishop also inaugurated the foundation in Preston of the Sisters of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC) – only recently arrived from Kerala. This marks the first foundation of a community of Syro-Malabar Religious Sisters in Great Britain.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church – headed by the Major Archbishop – has now more than 4 million members worldwide and traces its origin to St Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have reached the shore of Kerala in 52 AD.
The Mass at St Ignatius was extremely well-supported with approximately a thousand people in attendance, 20 clergy from the Syro-Malabar Church and 20 clergy from our own Diocese. The drums, colours and music were all very striking but also a very packed church!
For the erection of the two personal parishes, the two canonical decrees were read out for all to hear by the Catholic Dean of Preston who attended by way of local support (below).
The rest of the Diocese has a smaller but well-established Syro-Malabar presence – connected canonically to the Blackpool St Kentigern’s Deanery – and ongoing provision is being made for their needs.
Meanwhile, we are becoming increasingly aware at the present time of the reality of migration and the plight of so many men, women and children seeking a better and more peaceful future. A frequent refrain in the Scriptures is that of ‘the stranger in your midst’, with the injunction to welcome and respect those who differ from us in any way.
There is no doubt that the presence of the Syro-Malabar communities in the Diocese of Lancaster has brought many blessings to us, and we cannot but be impressed by the fervour of their religious practice and devotion to their faith.
The Syro-Malabar liturgical language (Malayalam) and form of liturgy are markedly different from our own Roman rite, but are nevertheless ancient and worthy of our respect and admiration.
The concern of the Syro-Malabar Church authorities is to ensure that the faith and practice of their overseas communities be safeguarded and strengthened. In some parts of the world, e.g. the USA and Australia, the Syro-Malabar actually have their own dioceses and bishops.
The Syro-Malabar chaplaincy in the Diocese of Lancaster was founded in 2004 by Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue and has, until this point, relied completely on various Roman Catholic parishes in Preston and further afield, to host their liturgies, social gatherings, meetings and prayer services.
I remember clearly an appeal at a Synod of Bishops in Rome, which I attended some years ago, for us here in Europe to warmly welcome immigrants who have their own faith story and long traditions, for they can inspire and bring new life to often seemingly tired faith communities in our part of the world.
Pope Francis often echoes the call to ‘welcome the migrant’ as we would welcome God Himself.
I have no doubt that almighty God will look kindly on the Diocese of Lancaster for opening its door in welcome to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church communities.
Of course, the word Catholic means universal or ‘fullness’, and the world-wide Catholic Church may be seen as a ‘coat of many colours’, having many golden strands and various textures – a ‘communion of Churches’ – united in diversity.
We in the Roman or Latin Church represent one distinguished strand of that coat, but an equally important and colourful strand is the ancient and venerable Syro-Malabar Church of Kerala.
We warmly welcomed the Major Archbishop among us in the conviction that our own Church of Lancaster is strengthened and enriched by the presence of his faithful people among us.
Until next week – May God bless you all,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster