The Bishops’ Conference Plenary Session in Leeds

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s reflection to the Bishop’s Blog!

Bishops' Plenary - Nov 2017

This past week the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales met in Leeds for their twice yearly conference.  These are always fruitful but demanding days, with a quite remarkably intense and open level of discussion on issues currently facing the Church and society as a whole. They also provide the opportunity for the bishops to meet and enjoy one another’s company at a social level, something not often possible in view of the geographical spread of England and Wales.

Many topics were touched upon, for example the Bishops joined our voice to all those calling for greater protection for children from the harmful materials accessible to all on the internet.

Next year’s Roman Synod in October on the vocation of young people, and Adoremus – the two-day Eucharistic Congress which takes place in mid-September in Liverpool. The Bishops fervently hope that the latter Congress will be a time of great grace for the Church and nurture in no small way devotion to Our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist.

We had reports on the extreme difficulties facing the Church in both North and South Sudan, with the overall situation there being described by one bishop who had recently visited as being ‘dire’.  As with Christians in the Holy Land, our interest and friendship are greatly appreciated by these churches, even if we may not be able to contribute greatly to the relief of their difficulties and suffering.

Another country brought to our attention was Yemen, and the Conference sent a special message to the Bishops of Zimbabwe as news of an uneasy political situation began to emerge.  There is an admirable sense of solidarity on our part with these and other Bishops’ Conferences who face their own particular challenges.

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We also had reports on the various ecumenical dialogues in which our Conference is engaged, Catholic-Anglican, Catholic-Methodist, to name but two.

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The recent Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, Magnum Principium, on the translation of liturgical texts and the increased role of Bishops’ Conferences in this regard were the subject of a lengthy reflection. As the particular resolution, which was voted on and passed, the work of ICEL, the International Conference/Body for English in the Liturgy, was commended.

At one session concern was raised and fears expressed by the Bishops about the possibility of a ‘cap’ being placed on the number of Catholic children who could be admitted to any new Catholic School. Such a move, it was felt, would place in jeopardy the long-standing and historical relationship between successive governments and the Catholic Church in England and Wales.Education Cap - Banner

As Bishops, we took careful note of the gender issues now much discussed and debated in the public forum.  Since this particular debate will be a long-running one, the Bishops stressed at this stage the primacy of respect and reverence for the dignity of the human person which must pervade every phase and action of a highly sensitive subject.

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The above gives a sample of the range of topics which occupied us as bishops and teachers of the faith in our complex and ever-changing society. The Audio recording of the official Press Conference is here. I’m sure we gave the agenda the attention and seriousness which they demanded, and left Leeds tired but satisfied!

Until next week – May God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

The Saints & New Life for the Church in Preston

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

In our Catholic liturgical calendar the month of November begins with the feast of All Saints, the day when the Church celebrates the sainthood of all those men and women passed from this life and who now enjoy the eternal vision of God in the blessedness of heaven.

I like to think of this day as one of particular honour for those ordinary men and women who faithfully followed Christ in every age, mostly in quiet and in unsung ways, and who offer us fellow-disciples in our own time example, encouragement and inspiration.

Whenever we think of saints, familiar figures for example such as Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux, Mother, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, spring to mind, and those others perhaps to whom we have a personal devotion. A quick browse through the Church’s calendar reveals many more, and there are numerous other men and women whom the Church throughout her history has declared to be saints.

One thinks, too, of those on the road to sainthood – like Father Solanus Casey, the American-born Capuchin priest (pictured above) who died in 1957, who will be beatified at a 18 Nov Mass in Detroit. His somewhat hidden life, great faith, care for the sick and spiritual direction was quite extraordinary. I’m thinking, too, of more modern-day martyrs of the Church like Blessed Mariam Vattalil – in religion Sister Rani Maria (image below) – was an Indian Syro-Malabar professed religious and a social worker in the Franciscan Clarist Congregation who worked among the poor within the Diocese of Indore, India.

Yet we would do well to recall those now departed individuals we ourselves have known, and who in some way have touched our own lives for the better.  Our own list of such names could possibly include parents, grandparents, different members of our families, friends and perhaps those we have encountered on the road of life.

All Saints’ Day reminds us that sainthood is possible and even desirable for each one of us because God’s grace is ever at work deep within us – through the Holy Spirit which Christ promised he would send from his Father to his friends. Saint Paul, when he begins his letters to the various Churches often addresses the Christians as saints, those made holy by their baptism and indeed called by God to be holy, often in the midst of an indifferent and hostile world.

We instinctively shy away from being thought holy, but let us remember that the accumulative holiness of the members of the Church can only be an immense influence for good on our society and on the world at large. St. Peter urges Christians to be holy, as God is holy.

 

The celebration of Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass is a celebration of all the faithful and not only those of us who are physically present, gathered around the altar. The saints in heaven whose eternity is spent praising God also surround us as we the Church on earth honour the Father in Christ.

That great multitude of which St. John speaks in the Apocalypse stand with us at the altar, joining their great prayer and praise to God and to the Lamb. And if we could but realise it, their powerful intercession enhances and elevates before the throne of the Lamb our occasionally faltering prayer and worship.

Last week, I wrote of November being a month of remembrance for the dead and of the need to pray for them. What the feast of All Saints offers and highlights is the wonder and consolation that the saints in heaven are continually interceding for us, especially those ‘ordinary saints’, many of whom loved and cared for us in life.

It is reassuring to know in faith that such love and care have not ceased, but continue from another and a greater shore.

We know and experience the care of the Lord and his saints on occasions like last week, the House of Discernment was inaugurated for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at St Walburge’s, Preston – may St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal pray for us and the four young men who have begin their discernment there. May many young men follow them!

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Tomorrow, Sunday 12 November, I look forward to welcoming the The Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest – the female branch of the Institute who are making a foundation at St Augustine’s presbytery, Preston.

We thank Monsignor Gilles Wach. Prior General of the Institute, for his work to bring the Sisters to the Diocese and we welcome the Sisters Adorers among us and pray for the success of their mission!

They promise to be a powerhouse of prayer and a great witness to religious life in the heart of Preston.

On Thursday, I blessed and opened with Bishop Mar Joseph Srampickal a new Propaedeutic Seminary at the restored presbytery of Preston’s Cathedral of St Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception for the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain. Three young men have just started there.

Both the Institute and the Eparchy have done wonders with these large and historic buildings – under the Lord – and  all for the Lord and His Holy Catholic Church and her saving mission! We are blessed as the Diocese of Lancaster to have such a close collaborative and fruitful relationship with both.

All you saints of God, pray for us and may Blessed Mary Our Mother, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, protect and intercede for us!

Let us continue to pray for one another.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

 

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Remembering our Faithful Departed this November

Dear Friends in Christ – within and beyond the Diocese of Lancaster!

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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In the Catholic world the practice of remembering the dead and praying to God for them is widespread. This is particularly true on the 2nd November, All Souls Day, and throughout this month.

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A very human explanation for this is the duty and debt we owe to those who have gone before us, whose goodness and example we recall with gratitude. The moving services of Remembrance which take place at cenotaphs and war memorials in many places at this time, focus on the gratitude due to our armed forces who fought on our behalf.

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Our Catholic tradition has, moreover, long recognised the truth that our prayers, devotions and Masses offered for the dead can assist them on their way to God. Today our sense and appreciation of Purgatory has weakened, and many now find it difficult to square this state of ‘punishment’, however temporal, with the notion of a loving, and all-forgiving merciful God.

Yet when we try to rationalise what happens in the afterlife or to comprehend the eternal God we quickly discover our human limitations, and ultimately our inability to fully understand things which surpass our intellect.

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In a celebrated passage in his Confessions, (written around 400AD) St. Augustine of Hippo movingly describes the death of his mother Monica in Ostia as they were about to return home to North Africa. In her last words to her family, Monica enjoined them not to be concerned about where her body would be laid to rest.

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The only thing she asked was that they remember her at the altar of the Lord, wherever they may be. Saint Monica’s request shows how the tradition of praying for the dead was already firmly established in the early Church.

The visits to cemeteries, with the laying of flowers and lighting of candles, which take place this month in so many countries speak of what theologians call “sensus fidelium”, that deeper appreciation of the truths of the faith on the part of ordinary believers inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the conviction that the dead should be remembered and prayed for.

The prophet Isaiah was overwhelmed with his experience of the holiness of God in the Jerusalem Temple (Is.6), and the chorus of the angels he heard singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts’.  The young prophet, we read, was aghast and became acutely aware of his own sinfulness in the presence of the all-holy God.

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One simple explanation given for the existence of Purgatory was the need of souls to be purified of all fault and traces of sin before passing finally into the presence of the triune God and his holy angels.

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What should sustain and reassure us in this month as we pray for our deceased brothers and sisters is both our natural inclination not to forget them, and the Church’s practice and long conviction that, in the words of the book of Maccabees, ‘It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be released from their sins’ (2Macc.12:45).

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Finally, we do believe that our prayers always reach the merciful ears of the Lord, and in ways we do not understand, they benefit those we have known and loved on this earth, and have now made the journey into eternity.

Until next week, may God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Recalling the Reformation & Remaining True to Christ our King

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog for this week.

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The ruins of abbeys and monasteries all over Britain, and which today attract so many sightseers and tourists, are a constant reminder to me of just how far-reaching was the religious upheaval, persecution and cultural devastation of that period in history we know today as ‘the Reformation’.

Historians continue to debate the underlying causes and extent of what can only be described as a seismic break or revolution in the social and religious history of these islands.  The ruins and martyrdoms to which I’ve just referred may be described as the scars and wounds of that very troubled period.

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The Christian communities in these lands and across Europe are currently marking and reflecting on the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, and are doing so in a spirit which is irenic and marked by Christian charity.

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On Thursday last week, Pope Francis received in audience the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and a delegation which he addressed graciously and with great courtesy. Last year the Pope also made a ground-breaking visit to Lund, Sweden, in the context of the Reformation anniversary, and there met with Lutheran Church leaders.

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How as Catholics are we to address the subject of the Reformation, its bitter divisions, and tragic consequences for the unity of Christendom?

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The Holy Father, Pope Francis has acknowledged that we cannot change the facts of past history, they are there for all to see, but we have moved on, and a new spirit of mutual acceptance and tolerance among the Church and ecclesial communities now prevails.

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In my own lifetime, I have witnessed quite a remarkable change of attitudes which to previous generations would not have been thought possible.

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The spirit of cooperation and friendship, at official and, as it were, unofficial church and parish levels, is something we now take very much for granted. The presence of Archbishop Justin Welby, his predecessor Archbishop Rowan Williams, and the recently retired Bishop of London, Richard Chartes, in Westminster Cathedral for the funeral Mass of Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor, was a very real sign of the ecumenical journey we have already travelled as followers of Christ.

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The divisions among Christians and their aftermath which the Reformation gave rise to remain a source of great sadness and pain, yet while we look back, we must also look forward under the imperative of the prayer of the Lord at the Last Supper: that his disciples ‘may be one’.

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The burdens of history and its legacy can be heavy, but each fresh generation of believers is called, not to solve the problems of the past, but to trust in the Holy Spirit who is ever making things new.  Echoing the Second Vatican Council the Pope did observe, as do many others, how a divided Church weakens the power of Christian witness before the modern world.

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We thank God that we live in religiously more accepting and more tolerant times. Our Catholic task today is, of course, to be true to our Faith as we walk alongside our fellow Christians and together address and try to alleviate the glaring human problems of the twenty-first century, which are there for all to see.

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Until next week – may we each walk humbly with our God and remain true to Christ our King, to building His Kingdom and to defending and promoting the mission of the Church in our day.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Praying the Rosary is good for the Soul

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog! 

First of all; allow me to thank so many of you  for your support since last week’s Blog – I am most grateful! May our sufferings for such a stance be an offering for these innocents!

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The Rosary has been, and still is, a foundational prayer for very many Catholics throughout the world. It is also a much loved form of prayer, and a devotion to the mother of Jesus Christ. Initially at least, the Rosary may seem to some rather monotonous, especially with its succession of Hail Marys. Through gradual and faithful recitation, however, it grows on us and becomes part of our regular and daily prayer life. Such a fruitful and familiar routine is good for the soul!

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The Rosary is also closely associated with processions at the great Marian shrines, and in the apparitions of Our Blessed Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes the young future saint noticed on one occasion how Mary was silently fingering her Rosary beads.

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In doing so Our Lady was surely giving her approval to this form of prayer. Successive Popes have regularly encouraged the praying of the Rosary, and the deep attachment of St. John Paul II to the Rosary is well known. The origins of the Rosary go back centuries, and its widespread recitation was felt to be instrumental in the victory for Christian civilisation at the battle of Lepanto in 1570.

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While the Rosary is an act of Catholic piety and popular devotion, it is a prayer with solid Christological foundations, for at its heart are the mysteries of our divine Lord’s life, death and resurrection. The fairly recent addition by Pope St. John Paul of the Mysteries of Light further highlight saving episodes of the Lord’s earthly life: his baptism, his first miracle at Cana, the calling of the first disciples, his Transfiguration, and the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. Meditation on these mysteries constitute a rich form of prayer and at the same time leads us ever more deeply into the earthly life and ministry of the Incarnate Son of God.

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One attraction of the Rosary is its simplicity. Furthermore, as a prayer it is deeply rooted in Scripture, and so linked to that divine truth which almighty God wishes us human beings to have. By reciting the Rosary we are opening ourselves, as did Our Lady, to the gentle impulses of the Holy Spirit who guides us as believing individuals and as a Church. Prayer is a powerful instrument for the good of the world, and only God can know the real impact and effect that the countless daily recitation of the Rosary can have. When we are alone and reciting the Rosary we should remember that we form part of a veritable tidal wave of prayer arising from earth to heaven. In fact, when we pray we are never alone!

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Earlier this month, 13th October, on the occasion of the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady to the children at Fatima, Catholics around the world following the urgings of Our Lady united in saying the Rosary for peace on that particular day.

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A remarkable manifestation of attachment to the Rosary coinciding with the anniversary took place in Poland, when reputably over one million people united in praying the Rosary, partly for Poland, partly for Europe, and for the needs of the world as a whole. This initiative was lay-inspired and lay-led and demonstrates the deep affection and love of the Polish people for Our Lady and the unique prayer we call the Rosary. Sentiments which are widely shared throughout the universal Church.

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October is traditionally a month of the Rosary. May this lovely prayer be an irreplaceable part of our daily life, and we need not doubt that through it Mary will help us now, and especially at the hour of our death.

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Sincerest good wishes and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

A Word of Encouragement for the Pro-Life Movement

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog! – a word of encouragement to those who work in and pray for the Pro-Life Movement.

Sometimes, we can tend to assume that as long as we’re well-intentioned, God will overlook the more ugly side of our actions. But nothing in Sacred Scripture supports this. In fact, you will find very little soft sentiment in the words of the Lord Jesus. We can, of course, count on God’s mercy and compassion, but we can also count on his justice.  God will always love us, no matter what we do. But love always tells the truth.

Here’s the truth: Three hours ago Pope Francis Tweeted:

“We are called to defend and safeguard human life, especially in the mother’s womb, in infancy, old age and physical or mental disability.”

Consequently, we cannot claim to be Catholic and then ignore what our faith teaches on serious matters of human dignity, especially on a foundational issue like abortion. We need to be faithful and well-informed Catholics first. If we are, then our Catholic convictions will naturally enrich our country’s public life.

For some Catholics, sadly the price of admission into mainstream British life has meant that we somehow keep the Catholic brand name and tribal loyalty, but are content to live a mix of nostalgia and generic good will and ‘keep our heads down’ in the public sphere. Rather, as Catholics, we have a baptismal duty to sanctify and humanize our country; in other words, to lead it to Jesus Christ.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the (1967) Abortion Act in Britain, we recall we’re citizens of heaven first and we have pro-life obligations to the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the elderly and the refugee.  But abortion is foundational. There’s no way around it. It’s the cornerstone issue for any society because it deals with the most basic human right of all – the right to life.

We just cannot build a just society while allowing more than a 185,000 abortions a year (in England and Wales), or even half that number. This is why “abortion reduction” strategies can sound persuasive and do have value, but they never adequately address the brutality and injustice of abortion itself, or abortion’s deep wounds to both women and children – with 8.8 million lives lost thus far in Britain since the introduction of the Act.

Some Catholics – including some periodicals and newspapers who claim to use that name – seem simply embarrassed by the abortion issue.

The abortion struggle gets in the way of their natural political alliances. Others don’t really agree with the Church’s teaching, or don’t accept the personhood of the unborn child. Others just want a respectable way to explain away this issue and get on with what they regard as the ‘real’ work of the Church!

I don’t think we’ve lost the abortion struggle just yet. Quite the opposite. A social conflict like abortion or racism is fundamental; it challenges the moral premises of a society and can often go on for decades. Overturning the Abortion Act is achievable. So are legal restrictions on abortion and legal protections for the unborn. Let us work and pray under God for this intention – especially with the Rosary this October – always with the compassion of Christ.

Until next week, let us pray for each other and for all those Catholics and others, too, who work to nurture and protect human life at its most vulnerable,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

On the Educational Mission of the Church

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog post for this week!

The Diocese of Lancaster celebrated its annual Education Mass (my homily for this Mass is here) this past Friday evening in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster. The large and enthusiastic attendance of all those involved in any way in the Church’s educational mission entrusted to her by Christ underlined the significance of this Mass.

The occasion gave me, the Bishop and first teacher of the faith in the Diocese, the opportunity to thank our priests, teachers, governors, chaplains, catechists, those involved in RCIA, and others, for their commitment and assistance in this challenging ecclesial apostolate.

The reason for the Church’s existence is to speak of Jesus Christ and hand on his saving Truth from one generation to the next, until He returns in glory and makes all things new. The apostles and disciples were given this mandate by the risen Lord to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, a task which consequently has no limits. And wherever the Church establishes herself in any part of the world, her members will necessarily be engaged in forming minds and hearts after the manner of Jesus Christ.

So in the cathedral last evening as a teaching and educational community we invoked God’s blessing on the labours of so many, especially in our schools, colleges and parishes, who endeavour to prepare the way for the One, like John the Baptist, who is the greatest of all teachers, the Son of God.

Through this blog, I again acknowledge and express my thanks to the large number of those who form part of our educational community, which is comprised of eighty two parishes, seventy three primary and eleven secondary schools, and the Cardinal Newman College in Preston. The scale of these institutions for a relatively small diocese indicate just how seriously the Diocese of Lancaster approaches the task given her by her Divine Founder.

I am also very aware of the quiet but effective work of handing on the faith which so often takes place in our parishes – with the active help of our schools – in together – preparing our children and young people for those important sacramental moments in their lives, such as First Penance, First Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of Confirmation.

I am, of course, also conscious of the serious challenges that face Catholic Education and our schools today in our country with social relativism in the home and prevalent in politics, literature, TV and film and, of course, in and through the extraordinary rise of the newer and social media. Besides, today’s powerful and programmatic secular sociological trends often undermine or disregard our Catholic vision of life and love and our overwhelming respect for the human person, and respect for foundational bedrocks of society, such as the primacy of the family and defense of those most vulnerable in our society.

Our Catholic schools, have to operate within this demanding context and yet must continually seek to be faithful custodians of the Truth, beauty, and goodness of God in a way that allows for the joy of the Gospel to be palpable to all who have contact with our schools – Catholic and otherwise.

When our Catholic schools are experienced as beacons of Christ’s joy and care, then we bring our children, young people and those who educate them to the Truth who speaks insistently and compellingly to that hope that dwells in our hearts. Our hope is ultimately found in the person of Jesus Christ.

Our distinctive schools, colleges and academies continue to exist to form hearts, mould minds, and transform lives through the teachings of Jesus Christ, His Gospels and the teachings of His Catholic Church and so we have a lot to be hopeful about when we pin our future endeavours and plans on Him.

We are coming to realise ever more that each member of the Church through baptism is called to witness and be, in a certain sense, a teacher of Christ. The importance, therefore, and the central teaching role of the parish community, emphasised by Pope Francis, can hardly be overstated. So, thank you to all of you who give so generously of your time and spiritual gifts to the sacramental development of our children and young people. Please do continue this wonderful work, and call and encourage others to assist you.

Returning to last evening in the cathedral, it was heartening and greatly reassuring to see such an excellent number of young aspiring teachers who are taking their first steps in Catholic Education. Whatever the challenges facing us as a Church in the field of education, and retaining and safeguarding the thoroughly Catholic spirit and ethos which we have inherited constitutes one of those challenges, there is much to be thankful for.

Please keep in your prayers the efforts of our Diocese of Lancaster to be faithful and play its part here in the North West in fulfilling the mission of the Lord to ‘teach all nations’.

Until next week – let us pray for each other,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster