Thinking ahead to October’s Synod of Bishops

Dear Friends in Christ,


From 5 to 19 October 2014, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of our Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales will be in Rome so as to attend a special gathering of 253 bishops of the Church Universal known officially as the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the topic: ‘The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation’.


The Code of Canon Law gives a simple description of the ‘Synod of Bishops’ and its purpose:

The Synod of Bishops is a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world.    Can. 342


At the end of the assembly, the Synod fathers communicate their ‘propositions’ to the Pope who presumably will attend many of its sessions, who then customarily writes a ‘post-synodal apostolic exhortation’ incorporating those propositions he sees as wise, good and necessary for the Church. In summary, the Synod of Bishops is a concrete exercise of the ‘collegiality’ of the bishops with the Bishop of Rome which was recovered the Second Vatican Council.


The meeting of the Synod of Bishops in October this year has been designated an ‘extraordinary’ assembly. Canon 346 §2 explains that an ‘extraordinary’ session of the synod is designed ‘to treat affairs which require a speedy solution’. Because it is designed to deal with more specific and urgent tasks, the extraordinary assembly be smaller than the usual ordinary assembly of the Synod. I attended the last ordinary assembly of the Synod in October 2012.


Generally, because Ordinary meetings of the synod last just a few weeks, it is stipulated that topics to be deliberated are such as can be discussed and handled within that short period of time. An Ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been scheduled for 2015 with the aim of seeking guidelines in the pastoral care of the human person in marriage and the family. However, the Holy Father felt that there was an urgent need to begin to examine these questions immediately and in great detail, given the many changes facing the Church and society today.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, has, in fact, disclosed that the procedures for this Extraordinary Synod have already been reformed. Among these changes, instead of reading set speeches to each other during the first phase, voting members of the synod will have submitted papers at least two weeks beforehand. The initial report compiled by Cardinal Péter Erdő, Primate of Hungary, will now be based on those submissions instead of on the preparatory document released earlier this year, the instrumentum laboris.


The assembled bishops will then pick out one theme from their papers, and perhaps taking into account the contributions of others. Meanwhile, Cardinal Erdő as rapporteur will adjust his initial summary of the issues accordingly. When the bishops subsequently divide up into small language groups for the second phase, they will not as before hammer out propositions for the pope to take up, but will work on amendments to Cardinal Erdő’s survey, which may then become the working document for the 2015 Synod.


The specific purpose of this 2014 meeting will therefore be to define the ‘status quaestionis’ (that is, the ‘state of investigation’) on this topic by collecting together the bishops’ experiences and proposals for proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner in today’s world.


We therefore should not expect the III Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops this October to make any specific pronouncements or decrees. Hopefully the Synod agenda will not be dominated by any single item, propaganda or agendas. Certainly the Synod will not be making any changes in the doctrine of the Church or even its pastoral practice. In the first place it is not empowered to do this (it is advisory), and in the second place this extraordinary assembly is simply preparatory to the main event which will take place in October 2015.


Rather, this gathering of the Bishops in Synod will aim to create a much clearer understanding among the Bishops of the state of marriage and family life for the Church around the world, and compose a focused agenda for the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod in October 2015.


Until next week – please do pray for the success of the Synod – especially on 28 September – the day requested by Pope Francis.


As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Celebrating God’s Blessings – Cleator & Blackpool

Dear Friends of Christ,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog – a reflection on the past week in my life and ministry as Bishop of Lancaster!


The Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady at Cleator, West Cumbria, took place last Sunday on what was a beautiful, late summer day. In recent years, due to indifferent weather, Mass and Benediction took place in the church, but not so this year.


Clear blue skies and warm sunshine enabled the pilgrims to avail of the lovely, well-maintained grounds where the shrine is situated. This year’s Pilgrimage Theme was the Magnificat


A group of our young people, as is now customary, set off on a long walk ‘The Big Walk’ over the Cumbrian fells two days previously and arrived in time for the start of the Mass.

Here’s a video of their pilgrimage from a few years ago:

Theirs is a pilgrimage in the true sense of the word.


A good number of priests, from the local deanery and beyond, joined me for the outdoor concelebrated Mass in the presence of several hundred pilgrims from around the diocese. The refreshments available afterwards rounded off nicely a very satisfying spiritual few hours together, as our diocese honoured yet again its principal patron, Our Blessed Lady, at this popular West Cumbrian shrine.


The parish priest of St. Charles Borromeo, Grange-over-Sands, Father Alf Parker, celebrates his golden jubilee of ordination this year, and on Monday I joined him with fellow priests and parishioners for a Mass to mark the occasion in Grange.  Fifty years of priestly service deserves to acknowledged, and the diocese and wider Church thank Father Alf and fellow jubilarians for their faithful  and dedicated ministry to God’s people throughout these years.


The Diocese of Lancaster bade farewell to one of its widely-respected priests on Wednesday with the funeral of Canon Nicholas McArdle (pictured in the far right in both photos – above and below) in St. Bernadette’s church, Lancaster.

Canon McArdle had lived in retirement in St. Bernadette’s for the past nine years, and felt very much at home there, ministering as his health permitted. Canon Nick had been a priest of the diocese for over fifty years and had held a number of responsible positions. The large presence at his funeral of his brother priests was ample testimony to the regard in which he was held. May this good priest of the Lord rest in peace and be given the reward of a faithful servant.


A complex and triple dream, as it were, finally reached fruition on Thursday afternoon in Blackpool with the blessing of the new Christ the King parish church, the blessing of the new Christ the King primary school (now an academy) and the blessing of the final phase of St. Mary’s College, also now an academy. An unusual feature of yesterday’s blessings was that they all took place on a single site.


The old parish church of Christ the King in Grange Park a short distance away had become seriously dilapidated and the governors of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Academy , Blackpool, with the approval and support of the Diocese of Lancaster and so many others, had the vision and generosity to incorporate a neat and compact little church, dedicated to Christ the King, into the school buildings, and at the same time creating a brand new primary school within the same complex.


The large number present – parishioners, teachers and governors, with pupils, who witnessed the various blessings and attended the concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving – were very much aware that they were witnessing a significant moment in the life of the Church and Catholic education in Blackpool.


Such an enterprising initiative reflects great credit on everyone who laboured and cooperated to make it a reality for the last five years, and more.


As I indicated yesterday at the Mass, the presence of these schools and a church on a single site is at heart an act of Christian charity towards present and future generations of churchgoers, pupils and students, who will enjoy the finest facilities both for worship and education.


May the Lord continue to bless abundantly the worship and learning of this new and inspiring beginning for the Church in Blackpool!


Until next week  –

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Celebrating our Religious Communities – old and new – in the Diocese of Lancaster!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog everyone!

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After the traditional summer break in August, I resumed my engagements on 28th August, the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, with a concelebrated Mass for the Augustinian sisters (below), residents and guests, at Boarbank Hall, close to Grange-over-Sands, in Cumbria.


The Sisters base their way of life on the famous rule of St. Augustine written by the Saint for male and female religious around sixteen hundred years ago, and which has certainly stood the test of time. The lunch following the Mass afterwards enhanced the occasion and brought a pleasant and what is now an annual occasion to a fitting close.


Two days later, 30th August, the Little Sisters of the Poor in Fulwood, Preston, kept the feast day of their fairly recently canonised foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan.  I offered Mass for the Sisters and residents of St. Joseph’s home, and afterwards joined the residents and guests for what was an enjoyable lunch generous laid on for us by the Little Sisters (below).


I mused how St. Jeanne Jugan must have smiled from on high at the consideration and kindly care given to the residents in all the homes of the Little Sisters as they come to the evening of their life. Our Diocese of Lancaster continues to be richly blessed both by the Little Sisters and the Augustinian community at Boarbank, and other religious families in different areas.

SistersengagedThe subject of Religious Life and new communities in our diocese is one which has been exercising me as bishop for some time. The new life and fresh vigour which new movements offer the Church are, I believe, graces of the Lord for our time.  


We have welcomed in recent months to our local diocesan Church three members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan (above). 

The Sisters have settled well in Christ the King Parish, Preston and are now engaged in different and important apostolates for the Diocese, in particular, at this time, the area of New Evangelisation/adult formation, University Chaplaincy at Lancaster, the Tribunal and archival work The three Sisters have been warmly received wherever they go and their impact is already being felt.


The splendid, Grade 1 listed, St. Walburge’s church in Preston, and its proper use has weighed heavily on recent Bishops of Lancaster.


With steady demographic decline in that particular part of the city and a consequently diminishing congregation, this magnificent building was reduced to having a single Sunday Mass and remained closed for the greater part of the week.


Those who know St. Walburge’s and its quite wonderful, prayerful interior, will be not be surprised at the pain, at times anguish, I and my predecessors as bishops have felt when confronted with this seemingly intractable situation, and the resultant challenge to find a viable future for such a sacred  and greatly loved building.


I do believe that the Lord has answered our prayer when the fairly recently established Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, (two of their members are pictured with me below) have agreed to take over and be responsible for St. Walburge’s church.


The priests of this particular Institute celebrate the liturgy, legitimately and with the full approval of the Church, according to the Extraordinary Form of the one Roman Rite. It is surprising just how many Catholics prefer to attend Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, a reminder to us of the unity in diversity which has always characterised the Church. 

What is most appealing about the generosity of the Institute (already well established in New Brighton, Wirral, in the diocese of Shrewsbury, and making their mark there) is that our lovely church of St. Walburge’s will now be open for Mass, prayer, the divine office, Eucharistic adoration, Confessions, each day of the week, from early morning until evening.

The Diocese warmly welcomes the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, and a small community will take up residence later this month in the presbytery adjoining St. Walburge’s. There will be a special Mass to inaugurate their mission will be celebrated on 27 September at 12 noon – all are welcome! The priests of the Institute will play their full and active part in the life of the local deanery of Preston and in the wider Diocese as a whole.

To have St. Walburge’s open and active as a place of prayer, devotion and sacramental practice, each day of the week is indeed an answer to prayer and will prove to be a great blessing for all of us. With God’s help, may this important apostolic venture prosper!


Until next week – may God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster