Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!
At times we are confronted with situations when words fail us, or at least seem utterly inadequate in the circumstances. As I visited some of areas in Carlisle yesterday which, together with parts of the Lake District, bore the brunt of ‘Storm Desmond’ I felt helpless, and very humbled at the fury of nature.
The heaps of discarded furniture and kitchen equipment outside so many homes told its own story, as a major clean-up operation was taking place. I wondered too at the many human dramas which must have unfolded as the rapidly, and dangerous, rising waters gave so little advance warning.
With some of the local priests, I offered the midday Mass in the church of Our Lady and St. Joseph (the parish of Our Lady of Eden) which includes most of the affected area, though thankfully the church itself escaped damage.
While we may feel powerless at such times, the prayer we know and love as the Mass has its own unique power and consolation.
Just to be there as Bishop and bringing all that had happened to the altar, making it part of Christ’s own sacrifice to the Father, brought the peace of God to what has been for so many such a fraught week.
As I walked around the streets, however, I was so struck by the cheerfulness and greeting of all who were helping in the necessary clean-up operation.
There was an evident spirit of generosity and a willingness to help anyone affected, an example of which was an impromptu table set up on a street providing warm drinks and snacks to anyone passing. The couple behind the table self-effacingly remarked that it was the least they could do. A humbling moment for me!
I was able to see the damage within a few homes and it was widespread. It’s hard to comprehend the impact on families as they see all their belongings, often precious family mementos, sodden and destroyed, and inevitably there were tears and a sense of shock as they recounted their own personal story to me.
What has make it all so difficult was that for some of them this was the second flood they have lived through in the space of a few years.
They will need time to adjust and begin the process of rebuilding their homes.
Newman School, yet again, took a major hit from Storm Desmond, and a quick visit showed a bleak site which was overwhelmed by the flood waters.
Yet in the hall attached to Our Lady and St. Joseph’s church the staff had gathered and were working to ensure that the life of the school and the pupils’ work went on as best as possible.
The spirit of the staff, their resilience to carry on and start again, would undoubtedly have impressed their distinguished patron, Blessed John Henry Newman. Underlying the staff’s determination was surely that ‘kindly light’ of which Blessed John wrote, and Christ will indeed accompany them as they face the future with hope.
I urge you to keep Carlisle, and those other parts of the Lake District so sorely affected, in your prayers.
What I did learn yesterday was just how much people appreciated the promise of prayers and thoughts at this most difficult of times. So many were touched by the Letter here from the Apostolic Nuncio, writing on behalf of Pope Francis, assuring these beleaguered communities of his thoughts and prayers.
Our prayers too (My own Message in the Storm’s aftermath is here) will make a difference and there is always hope. Let us reach out to our brothers and sisters, especially as we prepare for the birth of Our Saviour.
May God bless you all,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster