Remembering with Gratitude the Benedictine contribution in West Cumbria!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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A strong feature of Catholic life in that part of the Diocese of Lancaster we know as West Cumbria has been the presence and influence of the Benedictine Order, through their long-standing care of a great number of West Cumbrian parishes.

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In fact within living memory practically almost every parish of what is now the deanery of West Cumbria was staffed by Benedictine priests from the various English Benedictine abbeys: Ampleforth, Downside, Douai, and Belmont.

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Although just one parish remains now in the care of the Benedictines, older parishioners of the West Cumbrian parishes remember with affection the immense contribution to Catholic life made by the monks over many years.

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Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire retains responsibility for St. Begh’s parish, Whitehaven, and two recently appointed members of that abbey now continue the venerable Benedictine presence on the West coast.

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About ten days ago I travelled to Belmont Abbey to ordain one of their deacons to the priesthood, who himself had exercised his diaconate ministry for some time in Whitehaven.

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By ordaining this young monk I felt, as Bishop of Lancaster, that I was in some way acknowledging the great debt that the diocese owes to the Benedictine Order, and to Belmont Abbey in particular.

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The monks of Belmont have had responsibility for St. Begh’s parish since the 1930’s, but astonishingly there have been Benedictines in that part of Cumbria for over three hundred years now. The monastic links therefore with West Cumbria go back a very long way, and are therefore all the more precious for that.

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The story of the Benedictine presence in this area of our Diocese reflects those difficult years following on the Reformation in England when the Catholic community was dispersed and greatly reduced in number.

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Eventually, and in less overtly troubled times, the English Benedictine communities assumed a missionary mandate from the Holy See and became very active in many parts of the country.

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Their task was to gradually rebuild the Church especially in more remote areas, where diocesan priests were few, or even non-existent at the time.

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Monks of the English abbeys I mentioned earlier have all played their part in the restoration and renewal of Catholicism in the Western reaches of what is now part of our Diocese of Lancaster.

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This necessarily thumbnail sketch of the Benedictine story in West Cumbria is a small indication of the great debt owed to the Order of St. Benedict and its countless monks who strove to preserve the Catholic Church and its traditions in what must have been very challenging times.

The continuing and reassuring presence of the Belmont monks in St. Begh’s, Whitehaven, is much appreciated by the whole Catholic community of West Cumbria, and an important reminder of our religious past.

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The monks of yesterday ensured that the Catholic faith was preserved and carefully handed down. May our generation be equally faithful in sharing and handing on that faith to those who come after us in the Diocese of Lancaster.

Until next week – may God bless you all,

Cleator St Mary's (Grotto)

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

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