Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Greetings and prayers, as I post this week’s Bishop’s Blog – reflecting upon a major development in the life and history of the Catholic Church in Preston. I reflect upon this today because working to build up the Church in Preston and to secure its future, under God, has been a key part of my ministry as Bishop of Lancaster.
The city of Preston has long been blessed with a number of fine Catholic churches, remarkable for their size, external architectural design and attractive interiors. These architectural gems, such as Saint Walburge’s, St. Ignatius (now the Syro-Malabar Cathedral of St. Alphonsa), and Saint Thomas of Canterbury & English Martyrs, are symbolic of an era of huge numbers of local Catholics at Mass – which has now sadly passed.
In common with many northern cities and towns, Preston has witnessed both considerable demographic decline and urban redevelopment which necessarily has had its impact on the size and age-profile of the Catholic community in the city. Consequently, The Diocese of Lancaster has been confronted with the major challenge of what to do with these large listed churches.
Thankfully, we have not been paralysed by this situation. We have sought looked beyond the borders of the Diocese – towards the help of others. Indeed, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (three years ago this weekend) took responsibility, at my my invitation, for the splendid grade one listed St. Walburge’s church. It is a source of great delight to know that the Institute are steadily rejuvenating the St Walburge’s site – spiritually and materially.
Meanwhile, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Mar George Cardinal Alencherry accepted the offer of St. Ignatius’ church which, with the blessing of the Holy See, became, just over a year ago, the Cathedral for the new Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain.
We are truly delighted that St Ignatius has become the Mother Church for the new Eparchy and that this young diocese has such a beautiful Cathedral church in its care. Repair works now progress on St Alphonsa Cathedral, Preston and presbytery at quite a pace.
The lovely church on Garstang Road, affectionately known as ‘the Martyrs’, has likewise witnessed both a dwindling Mass attendance and a sharp deterioration in its maintenance. Although the cost of maintaining such a historic building is not cheap, as Bishop I could not countenance its closure because of its sign value to Catholic Preston.
A fresh chapter therefore in the history of English Martyrs begins this Sunday with the celebration of a Pontifical High Mass (to be filmed by Sancta Familia Media), as previously announced, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest have generously accepted my offer to assume the care of the church, so ensuring that Mass, sacraments, devotions and prayers take place in the church each day.
I place on record my sincere thanks to each and everyone involved in a huge clean-up operation at ‘the Martyrs’ – church, sacristies and grounds these last few months in readiness for the transfer to the Institute. I am mindful, too, of the substantial repair works going on there over the summer period – all due the momentum of the transfer!
All my thanks go to the Prior General of the Institute, Monsignor Wach for accepting my request and to all those in the Diocese and within the Institute who worked hard to make this arrangement happen. The church will now be established as a Shrine Church to the promotion of devotion to the English Martyrs and their powerful witness to the Church today.
Mass and liturgies will be mainly celebrated both in the extraordinary form, an integral part of Church life today, but a Mass will be celebrated ordinary form on a Saturday evening – at least for the time being.
This church with its handsome and inspiring interior will now be open every day, allowing time for daily Mass, prayer and devotional visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Confessions and other pious practices. The significance of such a church situated on a main (Garstang) road and being open for visits can hardly be exaggerated in our often frantic and hurried world of today.
The Catholics of the city of Preston have a rich legacy of architecturally beautiful churches, lovingly constructed to the glory of God and paid for by previous generations. By preserving and nurturing this precious heritage we are honouring the memory and intentions of those believers who have preceded us in the faith.
With God’s blessing we are also ensuring, for example, that the church of “the Martyrs” will remain open and welcoming to those future generations of Catholics who will follow us. My sincere prayer this special weekend is that God who has begun this good work may in his graciousness bring it to completion!
Until next week – may God bless you all.
As ever in Christ our Lord,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster