Thank God, we have saved two historic churches in Preston – but building up the mission of the Church is much more important!

Congregation-2Dear Friends in Jesus Christ,

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Six months ago, I was delighted to be able to announce for the Diocese (in April 2014), and much to everyone’s surprise, that we would be able – against all the odds – to save one of our most ‘iconic’ churches, St Walburge in Preston.

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This was brought about by the acceptance of my invitation to a young and dynamic religious community, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest to come and to administer St Walburge’s as a Shrine Church given especially for Eucharistic Adoration and for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in the Extraordinary Form.

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Thankfully, since the Institute arrived among us in September 2014, they have been able to bring this beautiful church, which in recent years was only open for just an hour each week, ‘back to life’ with a promise going forward of a sustainable future.

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Starting first with modest steps, the priests and seminarians there are making steady progress and are gathering a good momentum of support. St Walburge’s – so dear to local Catholics and many others in Preston has a new purpose now and is secured for the future. St Walburge’s Shrine Church is open for all now – each day of the year. I heartily recommend a visit if you are in the area!

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Following on from this, last Sunday (11 January 2015) I was also able to announce, too, that yet another historic church in the centre of Preston, St Ignatius (closed since 2 December 2014), has been secured for the future by my installing in it the local Syro-Malabar Catholic community from Kerala in South East India – a vibrant and young community belonging to this venerable and ancient Particular Church sui juiris which cherishes its full communion with the Pope but at the same time its own rich patrimony, cultural expressions, laws and liturgy. The former English parish community at St Ignatius had been merged for some years with English Martyrs and more recently that parish was merged further into the newly-created Parish of St John XXIII, Preston.

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I managed to secure this announced arrangement because of the providential intervention of the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry requesting a church and presbytery in Preston for the particular and exclusive use of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

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St Ignatius church, like St Walburge’s, was originally a Jesuit foundation, as one might guess from the name; the Catholic poet Francis Thompson, author of “The Hound of Heaven”, was baptized there in 1859, and Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., served for a time as the church’s curate in the 1880s. Now, just when all was believed to be lost, new and unexpected faith and life is promised!

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Of course, I am hoping that the priests and people of the Church in the Preston area, will be encouraged and excited by these developments that seek only one thing to build up the vibrancy and richness of the mission of the Church in the city and in the wider-Diocese. It’s truly wonderful that we can save these two historic churches but what is far more important is the building up of the mission of the People of God (people, religious, deacons, priests and bishop) – those ‘living stones’ which make the Church.

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I can happily share with you that I have received many messages of support this last week for the work – with the Lord – to bring about these developments. Nonetheless there will always be a few who – for reasons that only the Lord can judge – will seek to apply a certain cynical, self-referential, or even a hurtful reaction to our efforts. Still we plough ahead with the love, support and prayers of so many in the Diocese and further-a-field.

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In our efforts, I suppose I am bolstered by the fresh witness and joyful example of Pope Francis who as our ‘Pope of Surprises’ wants us to ‘break the shackles’ and to be a “missionary Church” with an open door, not “a self-centered, self-pitying Church immersed in its own suffering.”*

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Our Holy Father is broadening our vision and our capacity for imagining a new, different and outward-flowing experience of the Church – way beyond buildings, Mass times, structures, our routine and unquestioned habits and practices. This can be uncomfortable and painful at present for some but should bring about great growth and life for the Church in our Diocese in the years to come.

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We have every reason to hope because God loves us. And that’s much more than empty piety. The proof of it is those who quietly believe in his goodness still active in this Diocese and who want to fight for it. God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Our shared vocation is to echo this Word by our daring witness to letting it become flesh in the initiatives, imagination, and bloodstream of the life and ministry of the Diocese going forward.

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I realize sadly, too, that some of our parishes have been artificially kept afloat long after their effective lives have ended. Instead we need to ‘bite the bullet’, continue to make difficult decisions with future generations in mind and to put our energies and emphasis on evangelizing, catechizing, and educating our young people and lay adult leaders, but not necessarily with our current drag of structures, bureaucracy, and buildings.

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It’s true, if the Church has a worldly and self-referential spirit, it interferes with its ability to carry out its mission of making intentional disciples for the Lord. It is for this reason that I will continue in my remaining years as Bishop to go out ‘to the peripheries’ and seek especially in this Year of Consecrated Life new religious men and women who will come and help our dedicated priests and people in the mission of this Diocese. All this – to build us up and help our Local Church to be a ‘fruitful mother, who again gains her life from “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’*

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Please pray for me and for this special intention for 2015,

With every good wish and prayer for the week ahead,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

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