Sunday, 26 February 2012

SPONSORED WALK

This morning at the 11:30am Mass we gave a special blessing to for students from Holy Cross College who are embarking on a sponsored walk to raise money to go to Lourdes as part of the diocesan pilgrimage.  They are walking from St Marie's to St Bernadette's on to Our Lady of Grace in Prestwich, The Servite Church of Our Lady of Dolours and finally ending up at Salford Cathedral.

O God who made the sons of Israel to walk with dry feet through the midst of the Red Sea, and who opened to the three magi, by the guiding of a star, the way which led to your Son; grant to these your servants a prosperous journey, that, attended by your holy angels, they may happily reach their destination and finally the haven of eterna lsalvation.

O God, protector and lover of the humble, you bestowed on Saint Bernadette, the favour of the vision of Our Lady, the Immacualte Virgin Mary and of speaking with her.  Grant through her intercession a safe journey to your servants who set out on this sponsored walk that they may come saelfy to their journey's end and one day be rewarded with the vision of your face in heaven. 



PREPARING FOR MARRIAGE

Last week we began our Marraige Preparation Course.  There are currently eight couples preparing for Maarriage and this morning at Mass we imparted a special blessing to them.  Please keep them in your prayers as they prepare to pladge their love for each other at the altar of God. 

Lord, strengthen the love and dedication of these couples who are preparing to celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony. Help them to see beyond their wedding day to the covenant that will endure until death. In this blessed time of engagement, may each come to know their bethrothed better, that the love which they share may bear fruit in a happy marriage and ultimately eternal life in heaven. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen
 

Anthony and Laura
Wedding 15th September
 
Luke and Katie
Wedding 24th August

Martin and Carolyn
Wedding 5th May

Chris and Rebecca
Wedding 21st April

Stephen and Karen
Wedding 19th May

Monique and Dean
Wedding 20th July





Saturday, 25 February 2012

BISHOP DAVIES...ON HELL

Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury has used his Lenten Pastoral Letter to talk about the subject of eternal life and the reality of hell.  The good bishop writes:
My dear brothers and sisters,

As Lent begins we are reminded of something often unmentionable and sometimes unthinkable: your death and mine. “Remember you are dust,” we are told as we receive the mark of ashes, “and to dust you shall return.” This is not for the Christian a gloomy or morbid thought on Ash Wednesday but one which charges our lives with renewed urgency to respond to the message Our Lord first announced in Galilee: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” For “the blessed ashes placed on our foreheads,” Pope Benedict reminds us, “are a sign that reminds us of our condition as creatures, that invites us to repent, and to intensify our commitment to convert, to follow the Lord ever more closely” (General Audience 9th March 2011). As Pope St. Leo expressed this many centuries before: “All that each Christian is bound to do in every season we must now do with greater care and devotion” (Lent Sermon VI). It is the realisation of what the Psalmist calls “the shortness of our lives” which helps shape our priorities and gives each day a new urgency in the light of all eternity before us.

Today we can too easily lose sight of this perspective of eternity, failing to see what we have time for. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses so clearly: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open either to accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (CCC 1021). Blessed John Paul II observed at the beginning of this Millennium that the “people of our time have become insensitive to the Last Things” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope). Awareness of those Last Things has in the past stirred consciences and brought many to repentance and to the confession of their sins. And this is the urgency to which Lent and Easter now recalls us with the poignant mark of ashes. As that wise book The Imitation of Christ notes: “If you aren’t fit to face death today it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow...” (Book 1:23). For “remembering our mortality,” the Catechism tells us, “helps us realise that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfilment” (CCC 1007). Being aware of this limited time on earth and all that is to follow - our judgement, our purgatory, heaven or hell forever – becomes an urgent invitation to conversion in our lives.

At funerals today “a celebration of life” can often mean only looking back to a life now past rather than looking forwards to the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. The faith which allowed St Therese of Lisieux to say on her death-bed, “I am not dying; I am entering into life” (Last Conversations). The Church always prays as she believes and so it is not because we disapprove of the lyrics of Frank Sinatra or the chants of the football terraces that we insist that secular songs find no place in the prayer of the Christian Funeral. It is that the Church prays only as she believes. We treasure the memories of our loved ones but we also know where their hope and our own is placed. “Christ Himself … died for our sins,” St Peter tells us on this Sunday, “died for the guilty, to lead us to God” (I Peter 3:18). It is our faith which makes us realise that the faithful departed do not need our praises but they very much need our prayers. As the Catechism explains, each one of us at the moment of death, will, in our immortal souls, come to a “particular judgement” leading “to the blessedness of heaven” either “through a purification,” that is purgatory, “or immediately.” There is also a terrible reality of which the Gospel repeatedly speaks: “immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022). For “to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love,” the Catechism explains, “means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice” (CCC 1033). Yes, this is the real and everlasting choice of our lives.

Purgatory is a consoling hope for us. As the Catechism explains: “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030). This is why we pray at every Christian Funeral, indeed, in every Mass, that all the faithful departed may rest in peace. It is the prayer that, we hope, one day will be made for you and for me. As that great mother, St Monica, would finally ask of her sons: “lay this body wherever it may be … this only I ask of you that you should remember me at the Altar of the Lord wherever you may be” (Confessions Bk.9:11). And as this season of Lent begins with a reminder of our mortality let us be mindful of that urgent call which comes to us today: “The time has come,” Our Lord announces, “The Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15). In the “Hail Mary” this becomes an intention so beautifully brought together when we ask Our Lady to pray for us at the only two moments which ever matter: “Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

May this time of grace lead us toward the eternal Easter.

+ Mark
Bishop of Shrewsbury

Friday, 24 February 2012

I WILL DESTROY... AND BUILD AT SCHOOL

For the last few months the staff and children at our primary school of St Joseph and St Bede have hadt oput up with the noise of drills, hammers etc, combined with dust, dirt and general upheaval but the inconvenience of it all has been with it. 

This coming week the staff and children will be able to move into a newly built and furnished resource centre that has been created by knocking through a few classrooms that separated the hall from the rest of the school.  In addition to the the resource centre the junior building now has a bright, welcoming entrance area and office. I also hear on the grape vine that the staff are pleased with their newly refurbished staff room and meeting rooms.

This is a great development in the life of our primary school.  Phase Two of work is to begin this Monday.  Watch this space!!!

The New Resource Centre and Learning Zone


Comnputers in the ITC Suite

Another view of the Learning Zone
The revamped entrace area and office
(still needs decorating but this will be finished over the weekend)

RELAY OF PRAYER

As part of the preparation for the Olympic Games children from all over our diocese have been involved in a Relay of Prayer.  An Olympic Torch (Torch of Prayer) has been making its way round to each school of the diocese.  Each school has been given a country participating in the games.  The children then had to research this country and prepare a presentation. 
As the flame is brought to a school the children then give their presentation to the children of the school receiving the torch and so the journey moves on.

Today was the turn of the two primary schools in our parish St Joseph's and St Marie's.  The torch was brought to St Joseph's by the children of Our Lady and St Paul in Heywood.  From there it was taken to St Marie's School and the children gave a wonderful presentation on their olympic country, Thailand. 

Here are some pictures from to-day's events


Children from St Joseph's prepare to march to St Marie's

Some of the children at St Marie's await the arrival of the torch

Children of St Joseph's give us a falvour of Thai dancing

The Relay of Prayer Team

Saturday, 18 February 2012

AN EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE


At this time of year, in the season of Lent, there is a greater emphasis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).  Many people wonder what they havet osay when they come to confession. They think that as they have not committed any 'major sins' they have nothing to confess.  All sin is major as it is a turning against God's love.  It is a turning away from our dependence on Him and relying on our own efforts,  It is putting ourswelves and our own pleasures before the will of God.

People usually do not know what to say in Confession as they have failed to properly examine their conscience before approaching the preist.  As a way of helping in this matter I post the following Excaminatino of Conscience and pray that you will find it useful during this Lenten Season.

________________________

 
YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART
Have I ignored God or excluded Him from my life and works?
Have been loyal to the Teaching Authority of the Church and been willing to profess my faith in public as well as in private?
Is my daily prayer a real conversation with God in mind and heart?
Have I put my trust in superstitions or involved myself in the Occult or Satanism?
Have I a true reverence and love for the name of God or have I offended Him through blasphemy, cursing or perjury?
Did I miss Mass on Sunday or Holyday of Obligation through my own fault?
Did I fulfil my Easter duties?
Have made a dishonest Confession in the past?

YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF
Have I been disobedient, rude or disloyal to my parents or lawful superiors?
Have Inbeen harsh or overbearing to those under my authority?
Have I neglected my duty to provide a religious education for my children and to help them to know and love their faith?
Have I been impatient, angry, proud, jealous or hateful to others?
Did l get drunk, use drugs, give bad example or scandal?
Have I been involved in vandalism; driven recklessly or injured anyone?
Did in any way co-operate in an abortion?
Have I been lazy at my work, in study, or in the home?
Have I been immodest or impure by myself or with others?
Have I placed myself in occasions of sin, by reading, listening to, or looking at what was indecent, or pornographic?
Have failed to show love, understanding and respect to my marriage partner or been careless about my marriage vows?
Have I used forms of birth control forbidden by the Church?
Have I been guilty of cheating, theft, or gambling rashly?
Have I received stolen goods? Have I made restitution?
Do I give a full day’s work in return for a full day’s pay?
Do I pay a full day’s wage to those who work for me?
Have I told lies to injure anyone or excuse myself?
Have I been considerate, kind and generous to others in thought or deed?
Have I given way to self pity, brooded over injuries or refused to forgive?

ASH WEDNESDAY AND LENT

The Season of Lent will soon be upon us.  It is a time when we traditionally taken on extra penances or works of charity to help us to overcome our sinful nature. 

Below are a number of Spiritual Exercises in the parish that might be of help during this Holy Season.

ASH WEDNESDAY – the First Day of Lent
Masses are as follows

9:00am in St Marie’s School
12:15pm in St Marie’s Church
2:00pm in St Joseph’s School
7:30pm in St Marie’s Church
Ashes will be distributed at all Masses that day.

Ash Wednesday is also a day of FASTING AND ABSTINENCE

Fasting:
For all in good health between the ages of 18 and 59.
One full meal and two snacks. No meat.

Abstinence:
For all in good health over the age of 14
No meat

CONFESSIONS IN LENT
In addition to the usual confession times (Wednesday 11:45-12:10, Saturdays 10:30 -12:00 at St Marie's)EVERY FRIDAY
in Lent Confessions will be heard from 6:30pm till 7:15pm at St Marie’s.
Make every effort to make a good confession in Lent.
The light is on for you. Come and experience the love and mercy of God.

TUESDAY CHALLENGE MASS
beginning on Tuesday 28th February there will be an
EARLY MORNING MASS at 6:30am
every Tuesday in St Marie’s Church.
Why not make an extra effort to come to that Mass in Lent?

STATIONS OF THE CROSS
begins 24th February at St Joseph’s and alternates each Friday with
St John’s Anglican Church in Sunny Avenue.


Friday, 17 February 2012

BARONESS WARSI'S SPEECH

Here is the full text of Baroness Warsii's Speech at the VAtican this week referred to in our parish newsletter.  It is quite a lengthy post, but well worth the read.  i recommend it to you.

INTRODUCTION
Your Eminences. Excellencies. Reverend Fathers. Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an immense honour for me to stand here today in what is, for more than a billion people, the spiritual capital of the world. And it is a further privilege to lead the largest ever ministerial delegation from the United Kingdom to the Holy See. To celebrate the relationship between our two states:

The oldest formal diplomatic relationship in my country’s history and today, one of the strongest. Our diplomatic relationship began here in 1479, only a short distance from where we now stand.

For reasons we all know too well, we broke diplomatic relations only to restore them during the First World War. This year marks 30 years since full diplomatic relations were re-established between us. We want to build upon our bond, to show it to the rest of the world, and to let it inspire others. Because our relationship enables us to act together in the name of the common good:

TO PROMOTE DEMOCRACY
To fight for human rights.
To encourage fair, responsible trade.
To tackle climate change.
And to help build stable nations.

We are grateful for the superb work our Ambassador Nigel Baker is doing here building on the tremendous tenure of his predecessor Francis Campbell. The UK recognises that, as the smallest state in the world, the Holy See has the widest global reach. It therefore seems inevitable that the UK with its global reach and historic and current interests should nurture, strengthen and promote our relationship.

The areas upon which, by working together, we can achieve tangible, practical outcomes are both so vast and so important that they, in many ways, contextualise our differences. And I believe the strength of our relationship can give tremendous hope and inspiration to others across the world.
This year, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth are celebrating a person who has worked hard to bring our two great states closer.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Her Majesty’s visits here to the Vatican over a 60-year reign, and before when she came as a young Princess Elizabeth. Her work to encourage harmony between Catholics and Protestants. Her groundbreaking visit to the people of Ireland in 2011 and her steadfast commitment to all her people are just some of the reasons her Diamond Jubilee makes this year such a special one for my country.

And of course it was on her invitation that the Holy Father graced the United Kingdom with the first papal State Visit in our history.

PAPAL VISIT
The visit of September 2010 was historic, momentous and unforgettable and I want to thank the Holy Father on behalf of all four nations in our country. The hand of friendship was warmly received across our isles. Reaching out to Catholics and non-Catholics. To those of faith and those of none. From the cheering crowds on the streets of Scotland to those in silent contemplation during the Mass in Birmingham.

And the many millions watching on their television screens or holding special events in school assemblies, community groups and workplaces. It was a milestone in our relationship, a milestone in UK history – where heart truly spoke unto heart. On a personal level, I heeded the words of the Holy Father during his landmark speech in Westminster Hall. And I had the immense honour of enjoying an audience during a special event to promote interfaith relations. It was a humbling, moving moment for me.

And having made my speech at the Anglican Bishops’ Conference two days earlier on the importance of governments ‘doing God’ marking a clean break with the approach from the past, saying that our Government would be on the side of faith the Holy Father urged me to carry on making the case for faith in society.

MAIN ARGUMENT
So today I want to make one simple argument.

That in order to ensure faith has a proper space in the public sphere…In order to encourage social harmony...People need to feel stronger in their religious identities, more confident in their beliefs. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faith...and nations not denying their religious heritage.

If you take this thought to its conclusion then the idea you’re left with is this: Europe needs to become more confident in its Christianity.

Let us be honest:

Too often there is a suspicion of faith in our continent...where signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings...where states won’t fund faith schools...and where faith is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded. It all hinges on a basic misconception: That somehow to create equality and space for minority faiths and cultures we need to erase our majority religious heritage.

But it is my belief that the societies we are, the cultures we’ve created, the values we hold and the things we fight for...stem from something we’ve argued over, dissented from, discussed and built up:

Centuries of Christianity.

It’s what the Holy Father called the “unrenounceable Christian roots of [our] culture and civilisation”.
Which shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. You cannot and should not erase these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.

Let me get one thing very clear
I am not saying that everything done in the name of faith has been a blessing for our continent. Too much blood has been shed in the name of religion. But trying to erase this history or blind ourselves to the role of religion on our continent is wrong. We need to realise what drives us, what binds us and what inspires us is a history we are in danger of denying.

I know, in a globalised world, it is easy to think that to relate to others you must water down your identity.
But my point today is that being sure of who you are is the only way in which you will be more accommodating of others. And there is a second strand to this argument.That true confidence has the power to guarantee openness. Because only when you’re content in your own identity...

...only when you realise that the ‘Other’ does not jeopardise who you are can you truly accept and not merely tolerate the presence of difference. Just as the bully bullies because he or she is insecure so too the state suppresses, marginalises, dictates and dismisses when it feels its identity is at stake.

In the United Kingdom, we have guarded against such fear by recognising the importance of the Established Church and our Christian heritage – our majority faith. And that is what has created religious freedom and a home for people like me, of minority faiths. Majority faiths and minority faiths – as a Muslim who was born and raised in – and now serves – a Christian country, I have experience of both.

So I hope you will permit me to start by telling you a bit about my early life in the north of England in the 1970s and 80s.

PERSONAL

When I was growing up, as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, the debate in my country was not about religion but race. As a teenager what shaped me was the obvious injustice of Apartheid.

In my student days I campaigned for racial equality.And in the years that followed I launched campaigns to bolster race relations. But after 9/11 I saw the debate shifting – with difference being defined not by race but by religion.

My loyalty to my country was not in question because of my parents’ home country or even the colour of my skin, but because of the religion I was born into. I began to look back at my faith and the choices I made, as well as the lessons I learnt from my parents.I attended a relatively conservative mosque.

My father inspired me to learn – to seek knowledge of both the history of my country and the foundation of my faith. He said that to truly understand my religion I needed to understand history as much as theology.
He taught me to think about my identity in the following way: To see my religious identity, my faith, as a river that changes its appearance according to the bed on which it flows. The river reflecting the colour and the texture of the bed.  Like the river, my faith reflects the nation I belong to. So what made me feel even more confident as a British Muslim... What truly enabled me to learn about my faith and to practice it... Was that my country – the bed over which the river of my faith flowed – had a strong Christian identity. This defined, shaped and gave me confidence in my own faith... Which, combined with the confidence of my country’s principles and values….…Have since been evident in the decisions I’ve taken as an adult.

One decision which I think demonstrates how strongly I believe this was my choice of school for my daughter: An Anglican convent school. Many might think it is unusual for a Muslim mother to send her daughter to a Christian school. But I knew she would be free to follow her faith there that she would not be looked down on because she believed. And as I had hoped, she found it strengthened her faith.

Allowing her to define her Muslim identity, allowing her to reflect Christianity within that, adopting the Lord’s Prayer as her own by simply substituting the word “Amen” with “Ameen” It also left her posing a lot of questions about religion. As she once said to me, during one of the frequent debates about religious symbols:

“Mother Robina is going to get really upset about everyone being nasty about women who wear the hijab, because she wears one.” As so often is the case, the youth shed light on situations like this and innocence brings clarity with my 9-year-old daughter bringing into sharp focus the similarities between the veil and the hijab. Summing up exactly why I don’t support the outright banning of religious symbols... Because, for me, it’s about personal choice and the right to express one’s faith – whatever their faith.

So with my daughter’s school, as with my own upbringing, a strong sense of Christianity didn’t threaten our Muslim identity – it actually reinforced it. It enabled me to make the case for further interfaith debate, discussion and work. It motivated me to stand up and speak out against anti-Muslim hatred, the persecution of Christians and anti-Semitism. And it inspired me to challenge the growing marginalisation of faith in my country and in Europe.

AROUND THE WORLD

As I look around the world today, my resolve is strengthened.

Where we see faith inspiring, driving and motivating good works...

...is where certainty of conviction is at its strongest.

As the Bible teaches us: “For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead.”

The Quran teaches us something similar – that:

“those who believe and do good works are the best of created beings”.

We see the proof every day – globally, locally and individually.

From the Catholic Church being instrumental in toppling communism...

...to its key role in securing peace in Northern Ireland.

From the Catholic Schools in the UK, many of which are outperforming other institutions...

...to the domestic response to the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan and the drought in East Africa.

And where day by day, faith sustains people through their darkest, most desperate periods...

There is no denying the link between these positive actions and faith.



Perhaps the best example I have seen of this was on my visit to Pakistan last month....

...a visit I promised the late Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s tragically assassinated minorities minister, I would undertake: meeting the Christian communities of Karachi.

There I met four wonderful sisters at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School, including two Irish nuns.

One of them had spent 58 years of her life teaching girls in Pakistan.

Sister Berchmans, a native of County Clare – one of the most westerly spots in Europe – had left rural Ireland as a young nun to go and work in Pakistan.

There in Karachi, at the age of 80, and wearing her white habit and veil, she led the morning assembly in prayer in English.

And then she led the singing of the Pakistan national anthem in Urdu.

It was remarkable to see and to think of the practical and silent, discreet witness that Sister Berchmans and her fellow Nuns have shown to generations of young Pakistani girls, many of them Muslim...

...and one of them who grew up to become a Prime Minister, the first female to govern the modern Islamic world: the late Benazir Bhutto.

Sister Berchmans did not have to dilute her own faith or require others to dilute theirs.

Rather she was doing what countless generations have done before her – witnessing and living side by side with other cultures and faiths.

With Sister Berchmans rooted in her beliefs, and the Pakistani community she serves unwavering in its...

...I saw not the diminishment of faith but the ultimate enactment of the common good.



And I want to share some news with you today.

Sister Berchmans, and another person of faith who has laboured in Pakistan for over 35 years – Father Robert McCulloch of Australia, who is with us here today...

...have just been recognised for their lifetime of services to the people and development of Pakistan...

And the President of Pakistan have awarded them Pakistan’s highest civilian honour: the Sitarai-e-

Quaid-i-Azam.



INTERFAITH

I believe the same commitment is needed for dialogue and service between faiths to continue to succeed.

Its interlocutors need to demonstrate the strength of faith shown by Sister Berchmans...

...and the strength of appreciation and gratitude shown by the people of Pakistan.

Because different faiths must realise that, just because they don’t worship together, doesn’t mean that they can’t work together.

A great deal of this progress has been made thanks to the efforts of the Catholic Church...

...through its educational outreach or the work of groups like Caritas International and its federation of aid agencies around the world...

...and landmark documents like in Britain Meeting God in Friend and Stranger.



As a UK cabinet minister of the Muslim faith, representing a country with an Anglican Established Church, visiting our friends in the spiritual home of Catholicism...

...you will find no greater champion of understanding between faiths than me.

But I believe that where interfaith dialogue does not work...

...is where faiths are dumbed down in order to find common ground.

Just as the European language of Esperanto, which attempted to build a new tongue, neautralises our component languages...

...a common language between faiths risks watering down the diversity and intensity of our respective religions.

Instead, interfaith dialogue works when we debate our differences, when we wear our beliefs on our sleeves.

It’s not about you giving your version of God, and me giving my version of God.

And us coming to some watered-down compromise.

But about establishing our areas of consensus.

And being firm enough in our devotion to work together.

That’s why, when I visited the Tomb of David in Jerusalem...

...I felt no contradiction saying my nafils, or prayers, in an alternative place of worship.

It’s why when Vatican Two, whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year, set out Nostra Aetate, its acceptance of other faiths...

...it was not a sign of the church’s weakness of belief, but a sign of its strength.

And why, when the Holy Father made his historic visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul...

...he was not weakening his own faith but reaffirming it.

DEFEATING BIGOTRY

The point is that in so many ways, being sure of your faith adds a layer of strength to society.

Confidence in our own beliefs enables us to defend attacks on others.

Faith asks you to stand up for your neighbour.

As the fourth Muslim caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib said:

“Every man is your brother...either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity.”



This is the spirit which inspired Muslims to protect Jews during the Holocaust.

...which motivated Christians to support Muslims fleeing persecution in Darfur...

...and which led Chief Rabbi Sacks to call for action against persecution in Bosnia.

It’s something I’ve been arguing for a long time.

That persecution somewhere is persecution everywhere.

That if you oppress my neighbour you are oppressing me.

That an attack on a gudwara is an attack on a mosque, a church, a temple, a synagogue.



Today I’m moving that thought on...

...and saying that standing up for your neighbour of another faith doesn’t make you less of a Christian, less of a Jew or less of a Muslim – it makes you more of one.

When British Jews stand up to the political factions promoting anti Muslim hatred...

When Christians understand the horrors of the Holocaust and tackle anti-Semitism...

When Muslims and Sikhs stand shoulder to shoulder to protect their temples and Mosques...

...it is not a betrayal of their own faith or a threat to it.

...it is the most powerful demonstration of security in their own faith.



MARGINALISATION OF FAITH

But the confident affirmation of religion which I have spoken of is under threat.

It is what the Holy Father called ‘the increasing marginalisation of religion’ during his speech in Westminster Hall.

I see it in United Kingdom and I see it in Europe.

Spirituality, suppressed.

Divinity, downgraded.

Where, in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, faith is looked down on...

...as the hobby of ‘oddities, foreigners and minorities’.

Where religion is dismissed as an eccentricity...

...because it’s infused with tradition.

Where we undermine people who attribute good works to their belief...

...and require them to deny it as their motivation.

And where faith is overlooked in the public sphere...

...with not even a word about Christianity in the preface of the “European Constitution”.

When I pledged that the new government in the United Kingdom would ‘do God’, in some quarters there was uproar.

More telling were the countless comments I received of quiet support…

…a relief that finally someone had said what they had been thinking.

This fact alone shows the extent to which religion has been sidelined by some.

Because in parts of Europe there have been misguided beliefs that in order to accommodate people from other backgrounds, we must somehow become less religious or less Christian.

That somehow society must level itself out so that faith becomes something that is marginalised...

...and limited to the private confines of one's home or even one's mind.

But those calls are not coming from other faith communities.

They are coming from two types of people.

First, the well-intentioned liberal elite...

...who, conversely, are trying to create equality by marginalising faith in society.

...who think that the route to religious pluralism is by creating a path of faith-neutrality.

...who downgrade religion to a mere subcategory in public life.

But look at their supposed level playing field.

Its terrain is all but impassable to anyone of belief.

One of the arguments of the liberal elite is that faith and reason are incompatible.

But they don’t realise, as the Holy Father has argued for many years, that faith and reason go hand in hand.

As he said to us in Westminster Hall:

“...the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief...need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation.”

In other words, just as reason should not be excluded from debates about faith...

...so too spirituality should not be excluded when we look at worldly matters.

Second, there are the anti-religionists, the faith deniers.

The people who dine out on free-flowing media and sustain a vocabulary of secularist intolerance....

...attempting to remove all trace of religion from culture, history and public discourse.

While ignoring the fact that people of faith give more to charity and that the number of people going to a place of worship is globally on the up.

My theory is that we are so afraid – and rightly so – of going backwards in history to the bad days when religion was imposed on people by despotic regimes...

...that we have got to the stage where aggressive secularism is being imposed by stealth.

Leaving us with the ironic situation where, to stave off intolerance against minorities...

...we end up being intolerant towards religion itself.

For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant.

It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity and failing to understand the relationship between religious loyalty and loyalty to the state.

That’s why in the 20th Century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes was the targeting of organised religion.

Why? Because, to them, a religious identity struck at the heart of their totalitarian ideology.

In a free market of ideas, they knew their ideology was weak.

And with the strength of religions, established over many years, followed by many billions...

...their totalitarian regimes would be jeopardised.

Our response to militant secularisation today has to be simple.

Holding firm in our faiths.

Holding back intolerance.

Reaffirming the religious foundations on which our societies are built...

And reasserting the fact that, for centuries, Christianity in Europe has been inspiring, motivating, strengthening and improving our societies.

In public life – driving people to do great things, like setting up schools, creating public services, leading the way in charitable acts.

In politics – inspiring parties on both the left and the right.

In economics – providing many of the foundations for our market economy and capitalism.

In culture – influencing our monuments, our music, our paintings, and our engravings.



I’m delighted that the UK Government understands this...

...from supporting faith schools and faith charities at home and abroad...

...to helping religious groups to deliver vital public services...

And, most powerfully, when our Prime Minister spoke out unequivocally about the lasting impact of the King James Bible on our country.

THE FUTURE

But we must take this confident, open faith and apply it beyond the present.

I see a growing problem in some parts of our world today...

...with governments dictating:

What is a church and what isn’t.

Where people can build a place of worship and where they cannot.

Which faith they can belong to and which they cannot.

And whether they can display their beliefs in public or not.

I believe this is a misguided attempt at shoring up majority religions.

These governments need to realise that pluralism is not a threat to tradition.

Closer to home we see a similar suspicion.

For example, from the politicians who say that inviting Turkey to join the European Union is a threat to the roots of Europe and its Christian heritage.

Because they worry that the inclusion of a Muslim-majority country would diminish the Christianity of other countries.

They are mistaken.

The solution is not to shut the door on people of other faiths, but to strengthen our continent’s identity.

Just as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of her country:

“The problem is not that we have too much Islam, it’s that we have too little Christianity and too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind.”

Those discussions will only come about if Europe is more confident in its Christianity.

So our continent needs the zeal of a convert...

...not from discovering something new but rediscovering something which has underpinned our civilisations for centuries.

FAITH’S SEAT AT THE TABLE

At the same time, politicians need to give faith a seat at the table in public life.

Not the privileged position of a theocracy, but that of an equal informer of our public debate.

So we are not afraid to acknowledge when the debate derives from a religious basis.

And not afraid to take onboard – and take on – the solutions offered up by religion.

Politicians must also not be afraid to speak out when we think people who speak in the name of faith have got it wrong.

For example, in the UK today, Bishops in the House of Lords, the chamber in which I sit, are opposing the government’s reforms to welfare...

...where the government is trying to restore the dignity of work by putting responsibility back at the heart of society.

I welcome the role of the Bishops in scrutinising the legislation.

I support their right to bring their view to the table.

But I reserve the right to disagree.

I am not saying that faith leaders should have a monopoly on morality.

Because, of course, as our Prime Minister David Cameron said, there are Christians who don’t live by a moral code and there are atheists and agnostics who do. But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.

Therefore, I’m arguing that religion needs a role when we look at the problems today.

So that even the most committed atheist can find that those who are committed to religion have something to offer...

...and that faith can be good for society, good for communities and good for those who choose to follow a faith.

When religion has a role in public life, it enables us to look at our economy and refer to the Christian principles on which our markets were founded.

It means we can take solace from teachings such a Rerum Novarum and Caritas in Veritate, which offer up answers for creating moral markets.



It means we can look at our social problems and be inspired by Catholic Social Teaching.

...looking at our welfare system and thinking, how does this impact on human dignity?

...looking at social breakdown and thinking, are we reinforcing responsibility between citizens?

...looking at governance and thinking, are we relying on large organisations to do what smaller units could achieve?

...all the while thinking and remembering that many of our values...

...loving our neighbours...

...acting as the Good Samaritan would...

...supporting and championing the family unit...

...doing to others as you would be done by...

... are Biblical, spiritual and religious in their origin.

UNDERSTANDING FAITH

This action at a national and at a political level should have an impact at a social level.

Where individuals’ stronger rooting in their own religion will inspire a stronger understanding of faith.

And there is no better remedy to the distortion of our respective faiths.

As the Holy Father said last year in Assisi:

“[Violence] is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.”

Yet it remains a sad fact that in the modern world we see faith hijacked in the name of evil acts.

Utterly contrary to the teachings of the mainstream religions of the world.

Perhaps if states were more rooted in their religious heritages then faiths would be less prone to being distorted and hijacked for political gains.

At the same time it is this distortion which leads to believers being victimised for the actions of their co-religionists.

Whether it’s Christians in Pakistan...

Muslims in the USA...

Or Jews in Britain...

Targeted, victimised and facing the backlash of actions by their co-religionists.

It’s unacceptable and it must stop.



CONCLUSION

I started today by talking about the bond between the UK and the Holy See...

...about how we have overcome our differences to form our oldest formal diplomatic relationship.

I established that appreciating these differences was a sign of our strength, not weakness.

And this strength of identity has shone through...

...in our actions in the name of the common good...

...in the Holy Father’s State Visit to the UK in 2010...

...and, I trust, in our visit today.

Today I am urging individuals and nations to take the same approach when it comes to faith.

And saying that in order to create harmony...

...people need to strengthen their own identity...

...being sure of their nation’s religious foundations...

...and secure in their own beliefs.

At a time of great change taking place throughout the Muslim world, particularly during the Arab awakening.

Many countries, political parties and individuals are redefining their identity.

They are looking to their faith as source of inspiration to define the values by which they want to govern.

This is a great opportunity for them...

...to show that good governance can be rooted in religion….

...to show the world the true, peaceful spirit of religion…

…to demonstrate that defending your neighbour, whatever their faith, is an obligation defined by religion….

….to openly say that their countries are a home for all people of any religion.



...recognising that defending another faith does not diminish your own...

...being sure of your foundations and protecting minorities...

...preventing faith from being undermined and creating a space for faith – any faith – to thrive.

For Europe this means becoming more confident in its Christianity...

...and with that confidence, becoming more open.

People need to realise that, in our continent and beyond, Christianity’s teachings and values...

...are as permanent as Westminster Abbey...

...as indelible as Da Vinci’s Last Supper...

...and as solid as Christ the Redeemer.

And that Christianity is as vital to our future as it is to our past.

Our two states have lots to learn and much to teach…

…and I have hope, and yes faith, that others will continue with us on this path.



Monday, 13 February 2012

SUNDAY THOUGHTS - SACRAMENT OF THE SICK

Thankfully, we do not encounter leprosy in our culture. It can therefore be difficult to enter into the real depth of today’s readings. We have to understand that leprosy meant exclusion, rejection and the end of “normal” life. For your leprosy to be cured would be like being given a second chance at life. What is the cause of exclusion and rejection in our society – or even in the Church? Who are those who must “live apart”? And how can we put into effect in our day those most touching of the words of Jesus, when asked if he wants to cure the leper: “Of course I want to!”? Contemplating exclusion and rejection in our world can be hard work: Saint Paul guides the way: the Christian path is not to work “for my own advantage, but for the advantage of everybody else”.


As we here today of Our Lord’s cure of the man with leprosy I want to say a few words about the pastoral care of the Sick and Sacrament of the Sick.

For many people the Sacrament of the Sick is referred to as ‘the last rites.’ This stems from an older understanding of the Sacrament being a preparation for death. Indeed at one time this sacrament was called Extreme Unction and was only celebrated as the sick person approached death. Thus the priest coming to visit someone sick meant ‘the end was nigh.’

Thankfully we now have a revised approach to the celebration of this wonderful Sacrament.  We now talk of the pastoral care of the sick.  This approach gives care to the sick person from the beginning of their illness rather than the priest being called in at the last moment - something akin to a religious RAC service.  

It begins simply with pastoral visits to those who are sick. This usually takes the form of a friend or neighbour calling in on the sick person for an informal chat or a cuppa.

This may then lead into Holy Communion being brought to the sick person as they are not able to get to Mass. Here I want to thank all our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who regularly visit the sick and bring to them Christ the Bread of life. Thank you for all that you do in this important ministry.

The sick person may then hint that they want to go to confession or speak with the priest. It is then that the priest becomes involved in the care of sick, but notice things have already been happening long before the priest has been called.

When the priest visits he may well hear the sick person's confession and celebrae the Sacrament of the Sick, anointing the hands and forehead with the holy oil that has been blessed by the Bishop on Holy Thursday.

The Anointing of the Sick, as the name suggests is for those who are sick. It should not simply be a final anointing just before the person takes their last breath. It is a sacrament to bring about the Lord’s consolation and healing (and yes in some cases this may be to ease the passage from this world to the next –which is also a healing) and it can be repeated during the course of a long illness.

I am more than happy to celebrate this sacrament with those who feel the need for it. All you have to do is ask.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

NEW BISHOP FOR LOURDES

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Mgr Nicolas Jean RenĂ© Brouwet as the new bishop of the diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes (France). The announcment was made by the Archbishop of Toulouse yesterday (Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes) at the Grotto.

The newly appointed bishop was born 31st August 1962 and ordained priest on 27th June 1992 for the diocese of Nanterre.  He was ordained Bishop on 29th June 2008 and appointed as auxillary bishop to the diocese of Nanterre. 

Bishop Brouwet will be installed as Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes on 25th March.  Please pray for him.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

PURIFICATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

On the 2nd February I went over to New Brighton to visit the members of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.  At the invitation of Bishop Davies, the Institute have taken over the care church of St Peter and Paul, New Brighon.  In due time the church will become a place of Eucharistic Adoration in the diocese. 
There is much work to be done.  Please keep Canon Meney and Abbe Montjean in your prayers as they begin their ministry in New Brighton. 

To mark the Solemnity of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary there was a High Mass. 

Celebrant: Fr. Ian O'Shea
Deacon: Fr. Francis Wadsworth
Subdeacon: Abbe Cosme Montjean

Here are a few pictures from the Mass
In the sacristy before Mass

Blessing of candles prior to the Procession

Blessing of Candles

Part of te Procession

The Mass - Introibo ad altare Dei

The Collect

A prayerful subdeacon

Abbe Montjean sings the Epistle


Yours truly sings the Gospel

Distribution of Holy Communion

Procession back to the sacristy

Clergy and Servers