On Pilgrimage with the Diocese in Lourdes

Dear Friends in Christ,

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Returning yesterday from our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, I am reminded of the powerful reality of pilgrimage for the life and faith of believers.

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A prominent feature of Catholic life, and particularly at this time of the year, is that many Catholics go on pilgrimage to a holy place.

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Or perhaps we might express it better by saying that such Catholics feel the need to go to a holy place, to be quiet there, to pause and reflect within themselves, and be open to the presence of God.

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I think for example of the constant pilgrimages to the well-known shrines of Our Lady, such as Knock, Fatima and Lourdes in France. Another ancient place of pilgrimage, associated with Saint Patrick, is Croagh Patrick, ‘The Reek’, in the west of Ireland, where on the last Sunday of July an estimated crowd of twenty-thousand pilgrims, whatever the weather, make the arduous climb up this revered mountain to pray and to be present at Mass on the summit.

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One can also mention Iona in Scotland and the very popular and ancient shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, in Norfolk, and course the shrine to St. James the Apostle in Compostella, Spain. Readers will want to add their own favourite shrines and places of pilgrimage, for there are many.

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What is the appeal to the modern person of pilgrimage? One immediate answer would be the company and presence of other like-minded friends and pilgrims, who help us to share impressions and thoughts on the journey that is pilgrimage. Yet the widespread appeal of embarking on pilgrimage requires a deeper answer.

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Despite the tremendous advances of every kind today, and all the comforts of modern life which we enjoy, there appears to be a yearning in the human spirit for something much more which will purify and satisfy us.

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To this end, we take time out from our daily routines and so dispose ourselves to be open to another reality, which we know in faith to be the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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On pilgrimage we want to see the face of Jesus, to gaze upon him whether alone in quiet prayer, or united with others in the different spiritual exercises which mark our pilgrimage.

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I therefore suggest that the real point of pilgrimage is an encounter with the living God, who speaks to our hearts, and embraces us in his love.

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As Bishop I have just led well over two hundred pilgrims from the diocese of Lancaster on our annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.

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We were blessed to have eighty young people with us who were exemplary in the care and attentiveness they gave to the sick and infirm pilgrims who journeyed with us.

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For a good number of these young people, and others as well, this was their first pilgrimage to this great shrine where Our Blessed Lady first appeared to the little peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous on February 11th, 1858.

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Speaking to these new pilgrims they admitted that they were quite overwhelmed by the experience of being in Lourdes. It represented so much more than they could ever have expected, and they acknowledged that they were leaving Lourdes a different person to the one who came.

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What stood out for some, or many, was the silence surrounding the grotto late at night, and an awareness of being on hallowed, even sacred ground.

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The International Mass on the Sunday struck others as a marvellous example of the unity of our faith celebrated by people of many different nations and languages. All present believed in the one Mass!

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Again, the very moving Mass with the anointing of the sick touched many, as did the Eucharistic Procession, as Christ the healer walked among his weak and infirm people once more.

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Another rich moment was the Confirmation of a boy in his early teens who has had his health problems – a real occasion of joy and delight, as shown by the sustained applause afterwards.

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Our recently-created Cardinal, Vincent Nichols, graciously spoke to the Lancaster pilgrims just before Mass one morning, and he was received with great affection and real Lancashire warmth.

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In his short address to us, Cardinal Nichols reflected on the meaning of the word ‘compassionate’, so much in evidence in Lourdes in the care given to the sick.

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And alluding to the current debate in the House of Lords, Cardinal Vincent stressed how life was a gift to us from God from the very beginning to the natural end of our lives. God’s first word to us was Christ and he is indeed God’s last word.

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So we left Lourdes, each enriched with many memories and, not surprisingly, resolved to return again to Mary’s shrine next year!

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Until September now – As ever in Christ Our Lord,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Thanks to Denise, Stephen and Philip for the use of the photos

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Looking forward to the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes

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Dear friends in Christ,

About 250 of us pilgrims from the Diocese of Lancaster are making our final preparations for our annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes which begins on Friday 18 July. Many of us are no strangers to Our Lady’s shrine and are regular pilgrims coming together to honour the Mother of Christ.

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For others among us, especially many of our young people, this will be the first time on such a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and I hope you will quickly feel at home among us as part of the Lancaster family on pilgrimage.

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A pilgrimage is first and foremost a journey of prayer, and even detachment from our normal routine. In Lourdes we step back for a while to pause and reflect on our life’s journey before God, to ponder and turn over in our minds and hearts the wonderful story of Mary’s appearances to Bernadette, and to ask their prayers and help in our efforts to live the Christian life at home, work with our family and friends at home.

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We will be part of the millions of pilgrims who this year will travel to Lourdes to pray and experience afresh God’s mercy and healing grace in the sacraments. We will form part of a powerful wave of prayer – join us in prayer, too, wherever you are from 18 -25 July 2014!

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Our sick pilgrims have a special place for us in Lourdes, and it is a real lesson to witness the love and the care they receive at the shrine. Their deep faith and love of Our Lady are there for all to see. Our Lancaster young people always excel in their attention to our own sick and frail pilgrims and acknowledge that they receive more than they give. That is one of the miracles of Lourdes!

The pastoral theme chosen for the Lourdes pilgrimage this year is ‘The Joy of Conversion.’ The Lord called his first disciples and hearers to conversion, for, he declared, the kingdom of God was near. He makes the same call to us today!

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My prayer is that our pilgrimage this year will be a real time of grace and renewal for us on this spiritual adventure, but also for all those in the Diocese unable to be with us, and whose intentions we carry in our hearts.

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There will be no blog next week but a bumper one the week after (on 26 July) – before closing for the summer until September.

As ever in Christ Our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Celebrating The Solemnity of Ss Peter & Paul in Carlisle & Preston

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Dear Friends in Christ,

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On Sunday, the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, I celebrated the morning Solemn Mass with the parish clergy in Our Lady and St. Joseph’s church, Carlisle in the new parish of Our Lady of Eden. My homily is here.

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A good-sized congregation filled the church and it was lovely to meet afterwards with parishioners – many of whom were well-known to me.

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It is is always a joy for me to return to the city of Carlisle where I spent by earlier years as an Augustinian Friar.

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I have designated the rectory at Warwick Square as a place for those expressing an interest in the diocesan priesthood; a place where young men and others can meet with our vocations team to help them discern their vocational way ahead.

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In an often challenging climate, those considering a call to the priesthood need a great deal of encouragement and support, and the assurance that the life of a priest is an extremely fulfilling one.

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Please pray for our young people whom the Lord may still be calling to follow him as priests. He called Peter and Paul in his own way, and he still continues to call in our day.

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Later on Sunday I travelled from the Northern end of the diocese to the Southern part, from Carlisle to Preston, and to St. Maria Goretti’s church, to join the Syro-Malabar community of Kerala and three of their priests for the celebration of Mass and procession in honour of St. Thomas the Apostle, whom they rightly revere as the founder of their Church. My homily is here.

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The liturgy of the Mass took place according to their own Malayalam language and ancient rite, and this was followed by an outdoor procession in which the statue of St. Thomas was carried as well as a relic of one of their Syro-Malabar saint, Saint Alphonsa.

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There were well over two hundred present at the Mass, including many children, and with their characteristically colourful dress were an impressive sight as they processed in the summer sunshine.

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Through their music and singing the Syro-Malabar Catholics bring a devotion and richness to their liturgical celebrations, and are a powerful reminder of the universality of the Church.

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On these occasions, the Church as the image of a mosaic made up of many distinctive parts comes to mind, each one of which contributes to the beauty and unity of the whole.

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Saint Thomas the Apostle, highly privileged to have had a unique appearance from the risen Lord as the gospel relates, remains very much present and alive today in this vibrant Syro-Malabar Church!

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On Monday I was visited by a lovely group of Franciscan Sisters of Siessen who were coming to the close of a course on healing in Lancaster. It was lovely to meet them and hear of their life and charism back in Germany.

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I returned North again on Tuesday to Carlisle, to Austin Friars St. Monica’s School, where, with a number of clergy, I concelebrated the End of Year Mass. It was also the occasion to mark the retirement of Mrs Frances Willacy, the long-standing Head of the junior school, formerly known as St. Monica’s. My homily is here.

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This meant I had to miss the Episcopal Ordination of the new Bishop of Brentwood Fr Alan Williams SM, formerly the Director of the National Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. I sent him the promise of our best wishes and prayers from Lancaster! Here is a slideshow of images of that day:

Frances Willacy has given thirty years of devoted service as teacher and Head to generations of children, and throughout that time has been both thoroughly professional and deeply Catholic in her approach.

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I took the opportunity on Tuesday as bishop to thank Frances for her unwavering commitment to Catholic education over so many years and to wish her God’s blessing on her future.

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Until next week – may God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster