My dear Friends in Christ,
Thank you, again, for supporting the Bishop’s Blog – my weekly online reflection as Bishop of Lancaster!
Parish Visitations form a routine part of a Bishop’s pastoral ministry, but for the parish priest and parishioners they are special occasions and more often than not eagerly anticipated. A Visitation then gives the whole parish a chance to attend Mass celebrated by the Bishop and meet with him afterwards, usually over refreshments, for a brief chat.
What has surprised me is the number of people who remark that they have never previously met a bishop! More formal meetings also occur within a Visitation, such as that with the parish council and with the parish priest himself, when issues of immediate or longer term importance can be raised. A visit to a parish school usually concludes the Visitation.
This last weekend I made a parish Visitation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Carlisle, which has two churches, St. Margaret Mary’s and Christ the King, in which all the above elements were included. I celebrated Mass in both churches on the Sunday morning, mingled with the parishioners afterwards, and later in the morning joined many for a ‘shared lunch’.
How getting together for something to eat, engaging in conversation, and catching up with friends, brings its own rewards, not to mention building up and giving cohesion to a parish community! As someone rightly observed, such shared moments are a real continuation of the Eucharist celebrated earlier in the church.
A regular but most important part of a Bishop’s Parish Visitation is calling on the infirm and housebound, usually on the Sunday afternoon, and what a warm welcome is always extended to the Bishop, full of pleasure that he has come to see them. This was indeed true of the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish.
I am always deeply touched by the level of faith which shines through bodily infirmity, and leave humbled by such encounters. It is also reassuring to know that the elderly and housebound remain and are very much looked upon as an essential part of the parish and, although now less active physically, play their own often silent but indispensable part in the life and witness of the Church.
The staff and pupils of St. Margaret Mary’s Catholic Primary School made my visit there special on Monday morning by asking me to perform two blessings. The first was the blessing of the nursery extension which was opened two years ago.
The presence of the little ones during the blessing brought home to me the care and devotion given in our Catholic schools to small children just placing their first steps on the long educational ladder, and what an important contribution in human terms is represented by introducing the new generation to the wonder of learning.
The second blessing was that of a memorial garden in the school grounds dedicated to a Fr Peter Firth, a priest of St. Margaret Mary’s parish, who died on the Normandy beaches on D Day, in the service of his country as a military chaplain. The senior class with the Head and Deputy Head gathered around me for what was a simple but moving ceremony.
Fr Firth’s photograph is there for all to see, and both it and the memorial garden will serve as a reminder to generations of pupils of the sacrifices made by those gone before us in defence of their country.
Perhaps it might even stir up a sense of vocation in some of the boys in the light of the noble and sacrificial priestly example set by Fr Firth and others like him.
At the conclusion of the school assembly I was presented with a rather lovely framed poem composed by one of the Year 6 pupils.
The poem in question spoke of the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a love which is evergreen and is never exhausted. What a touching memento of a pleasing visit to St. Margaret Mary’s School and to the thriving parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
Until next week – with every good wish and prayer,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster