Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome back – after the summer – to the Bishop’s Blog!
It seems a long time since I last posted on the Blog – since the wonderful news of the Vatican’s establishment of the new Syro-Malabar Eparchy (Diocese) of Great Britain, with its seat in Preston and its own Bishop (Elect) Mar Joseph Srampickal.
Its wonderful to think that the city of Preston will have, at last, its own Cathedral of St Alphonsa – at St Ignatius Church.
We keep this initiative and the new Bishop in our prayers!
The Lancaster Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which took place in the last week of July, somehow now seems much more distant than that.
A number in excess of two hundred and fifty pilgrims, mostly from the diocese, converged in Lourdes for what turned out to be a peaceful, happy, and spiritually satisfying week spent together at Our Lady’s shrine.
Since our Lourdes pilgrimage coincided with World Youth Day, most of our young people/helpers were in Lourdes for the first time and greatly enjoyed the experience of pilgrimage.
Many of them have become good friends and will certainly return in years to come.
The cheerfulness and generosity of young people in caring for those frail and less mobile pilgrims never fails to impress, and this year was no exception.
Early in our Lourdes pilgrimage, being the Year of Mercy, as a group we passed through the door of mercy at St. Michael’s gate, to the far end of the demesne.
The apparently simple act of passing through the specially erected structure, together with the ritual of sprinkling themselves with water proved to be an emotional and deeply significant moment for many of our pilgrims.
Entering through the door of mercy fittingly set the tone for the remainder of the pilgrimage, with an enhanced awareness of almighty God boundless mercy and willingness to forgive us our faults.
The week passed quickly, as it always seems to do in Lourdes. There were many visits to the grotto where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette, and one highlight was our diocesan Mass there.
To be together at the grotto as a diocesan family for Mass has its own special atmosphere, and will be a treasured memory for pilgrims as they perhaps reflect on their pilgrimage during the days and months ahead.
The success of our pilgrimage in no small measure is due to the hard work of the Lourdes committee and numerous others who work so diligently throughout the year. They deserve our deepest thanks.
We all returned from Lourdes richly blessed by the Lord, his Mother and St. Bernadette. We are better for having been there and forming part of that great wave of prayer from countless pilgrims which rises before the throne of God.
Next year marks the 90th anniversary of the very first Lancaster Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1927.
I went on another and different kind of pilgrimage last Sunday, this time to Whithorn in South West Scotland, near Wigtown. The area is closely associated with the bishop Saint Ninian who lived in the fourth/fifth centuries, about whom little definite is known, but whose memory persists, particularly in the Catholic Diocese of Galloway, which borders on our own diocese.
What little we do know about Ninian suggests that he was a bishop at Whithorn and the surrounding area, and a cave on the beach still bears his name.
Each year, on the last Sunday of August, pilgrims make their way from the village of Whithorn along a forest path to the beach near the Saint’s cave, where Mass is said. I joined a retired Bishop of Galloway, Bishop Maurice Taylor, and priests from the locality for Mass, (the present Bishop, William Nolan (pictured below), is recovering from illness – our prayers for him).
A heavy shower of rain was accepted with good grace by the pilgrims and hardly dampened their enthusiasm, who numbered in excess of five hundred, and by the close of Mass the weather had relented, allowing us to return along a muddy path to the car park, though hardly dry-shod like those Israelites of old crossing the Red Sea!
How the idea of pilgrimage continues, and still attracts believers to set out on a journey of faith, be it great or small. I reflected at Whithorn how this saint from so long ago, and of whom we know so little, continues to draw Catholics and others to the place where he lived, ministered as a bishop and encountered Christ.
These pilgrims, myself included, departed from this remote spot satisfied and content. This was a Sunday well-spent; we gathered, in Bishop Taylor’s words, as an ecclesial community to pray, worship and offer Mass.
I personally will recall with pleasure my first pilgrimage to Whithorn as the summer now passes. St. Ninian will no doubt remember us from his place in heaven as we retraced in faith the place of his footsteps on earth.
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster