Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog – which we hope marks a momentous time in the life of the Church in this country.
What follows are words, videos and photos which, I hope, will give you the flavour of the joyful weekend celebrations in Preston last week.
The city of Preston was the scene of historic ecclesial events last weekend, when the first Eparch (bishop) of the newly-erected Syro-Malabar Eparchy (Diocese) for Great Britain was consecrated on Sunday afternoon.
The new Bishop had taken official possession of his cathedral of St. Alphonsa (St Ignatius church, Preston) on the evening before.
Many prelates of the Latin Church here and from the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala, India attended.
The Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, presided at the ordination of Bishop Joseph Srampickal in the presence of an estimated twelve-thousand Syro-Malabar from across Britain as well as other Catholics. The Major Archbishop’s Homily is here.
Thanks to the generosity and gracious good offices of Preston City Council and Preston North End FC the Mass of consecration took place in Deepdale, and was graced by the attendance of the Mayor of Preston and civic leaders, who were also unstinting in their cooperation with the Syro-Malabar community.
In mid-July Pope Francis granted the Syro-Malabar an Eparchy, and the ceremonies and celebrations of this weekend were the outcome of this papal decision.
By happy coincidence the city of Preston for the first time now has a Cathedral, the former St. Ignatius church, which will be greatly loved and cared for by the new bishop and his staff, and open to all each day for prayer and worship.
It was both inspiring and impressive to be part of a packed and joyous cathedral as Bishop Srampickal took official possession of his cathedral church on Saturday evening.
Preston is now the official centre for the forty-thousand or so Catholics of the Syro-Malabar faithful in England, Scotland and Wales, a community which, now with its own bishop, has a greater and stronger ecclesial identity.
As Bishop of Lancaster, I was honoured to be one of the two co-consecrators in the ordination ceremony on Sunday with the Major Archbishop.
Our own diocese with its painstaking support in recent years can take a genuine pride in paving the way for this important step in the life of the Syro-Malabar Church in Britain.
Both Cardinal Alencherry and Cardinal Sandri the Prefect of Vatican Congregation for Oriental Churches warmly acknowledged the contribution of the Diocese of Lancaster in making the transition to an Eparchy a smooth one.
The presence of many bishops from both the Syro-Malabar and our own Latin Rite Church, and numerous clergy, made for an impressive spectacle in PNE football ground, (a venue usually the scene of applause and cheering of another kind!)
The rain which fell later in the proceedings did little to dampen the enthusiastic spirit pervading the large congregation. As Cardinal Alencherry observed: “the shower of rain could be seen as a sign of the shower of God’s grace!”
So a new – and perhaps an unexpected – chapter has opened in the long and distinguished history of Catholic Preston.
The ways of the Lord are indeed wonderful, and new life has been breathed into a lovely historical church which in recent years of necessity has had to close through declining numbers, but has now been reinvigorated and elevated to the status of a cathedral.
We couldn’t be more delighted with this development.
The new cathedral has been placed under the patronage of the Syro-Malabar Saint Alphonsa, but by no means will it be forgetful of its previous patron, the great Ignatius of Loyola.
A weekend of rejoicing and jubilation has now passed, and to be part of it has been a privilege and occasion of gratitude to God for all of us in the Church of Lancaster.
The God of love and mercy who is always creating ‘new things’.
We wish the Syro-Malabar Eparchy and its new Eparch every blessing.
We assure them of our prayers, and are delighted to have Bishop Mar Joseph Srampickal and his cathedral in the midst of our (latin) Diocese of Lancaster.
We are pleased to walk together along the Way as ‘Sister’ Churches.
Until next week,
May God bless you all,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster