Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Two events of some significance which occurred in the past week were the fortieth anniversary Mass of the founding of the Missionaries of St. Paul, which took place in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, last Friday evening, and the overnight meeting in Birmingham on Tuesday and Wednesday of the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales with forty of their Anglican counterparts also from England & Wales.
The Missionaries of St. Paul (MSPs) are a Nigerian foundation of priests whose mission is to serve the Church worldwide, and consequently they are to be found in many countries. They have a strong presence in the south of England, particularly in the Archdiocese of Southwark where they have pastoral care for a number of parishes, and around forty Nigerian priests concelebrated the Mass for ‘MSP Day’ with me.
I was particularly happy to join them and give thanks to the Lord on the occasion of their ruby jubilee. The Diocese of Lancaster has two Missionaries of St. Paul in charge of parishes, for which we are very grateful.
There has been a remarkable turnabout in the missionary life of the Church over the past decades. Whereas it was once a case of missionaries from these islands travelling to parts of Africa (I was once one of these) and elsewhere to plant the seeds of the gospel and establish the Church, now the tide has turned remarkably and priests from countries of Africa are now assisting the Church in the UK in our time of need.
The Mass and celebration afterwards in St. George’s, Southwark on Friday night, was a vivid reminder of how Christ’s command to take his gospel to all nations has been warmly embraced and enthusiastically taken up by younger Churches, especially the Nigerian Missionaries of St. Paul. They derive their inspiration of course from that greatest of all missionaries, Paul of Tarsus. I reflected at Friday’s Mass on how the Church continues to renew itself from one generation to another often in an unexpected way, and equally on how Christ’s great commission continues to be taken seriously.
The joint meeting of Catholic and Anglican Bishops in Birmingham was a further indication of the progress made on the ecumenical journey in England & Wales. The occasion – the fifth of its kind in the last ten years – helped develop the already friendly relationships between the bishops through reflection and common prayer in the twenty-four hours we shared together.
It also provided the opportunity to meet other bishops for the first time in an easy and friendly atmosphere. Such a gathering of 41 Anglican and 32 Catholic Bishops would probably not have taken place some decades ago, but thank God that much has changed.
Talking and listening to one another gave us insights into the common challenges we face as preachers of the gospel in the different parts of England and Wales, and also increased our appreciation of the dedication of bishops of both Churches.
These meetings aim to foster spiritual communion; to identify and develop programmes of joint witness and mission in this country, both regionally and nationally, while reflecting on the effectiveness of this expression of spiritual communion; they help us bishops to remain informed about the formal dialogue of ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic Commissions)
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the meeting, setting the tone for what was a worthwhile overnight gathering.
During the gathering we were split into regional groupings for joint discussion around the following subjects:
- A Reflection on the international scene with a focus on the latest developments of ARCIC led by the co-chairs of that dialogue, Archbishop Bernard Longley and Archbishop David Moxon
- A Reflection on Europe and the movement of peoples
- A Reflection on prayer and evangelisation with a brief introduction by Archbishop Welby on the ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ initiative with a response from Cardinal Nichols as to why it is being supported ecumenically.
We had prayers at different times both in the nearby St. Chad’s Catholic Cathedral and the equally convenient St. Philip’s Anglican Cathedral. A highlight was Evening Prayer and a dinner hosted by the staff and students of St. Mary’s Seminary, Oscott.
The gracious welcome and excellent hospitality of the seminary made for a very pleasant evening, and another important page in the distinguished history of the Birmingham archdiocesan seminary was turned.
While obvious obstacles still remain on the long road to full Church unity, we drew fresh heart from just being together in one another’s company as bishops of both communions. The journey seems long but, thank God, we have already travelled some way together!
Until next week – let us pray for each other,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster
MSP Celebration: Stewart Whyte
Bishops’ Gathering: Marcin Mazur (CBCEW)