02 December 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Father Liam Carpenter exposes the Blessed Sacrament during Nottingham’s Light Fever event.
Luke Potter

A relic taken from the thigh bone of St Bernadette of Lourdes is to tour dioceses across Britain from autumn next year. St Bernadette is one of the most widely known and revered saints in the world due to the many miraculous healings attributed to her intercession and that of Our Lady of Lourdes, with her shrine in the south of France drawing millions of pilgrims from across the world. Canon Christopher Thomas, general secretary of the bishop’s conference of England and Wales, said the Shrine of Lourdes approached the English and Welsh bishops with the offer. “It was a genuine offer made by the shrine in Lourdes. The bishops saw this as not only something that will remind us of the importance of pilgrimage in our lives and the importance of the place of Lourdes in the life of many Catholics and dioceses in this country, but it will remind us of the centrality of the lives of the saints because this always points us to that greater degree of virtue that we are called to in our living of the Catholic faith.”

Being a Christian is not a passport to an easy life, and can even make things tougher, a Catholic service for young adults was told. Father Neil Peoples, director of vocations for the Nottingham diocese, said at a service at the cathedral that it was important not to procrastinate, and to make the most of opportunities that come our way. He was preaching at the Light Fever event in Nottingham, held in honour of the Venerable Mary Potter, who dedicated her religious ministry to the dying people of Nottingham and founded the Little Company of Mary in 1877. She was just 25 when she began her ministry. Young Catholics from across the diocese took to the streets of Nottingham, inviting passers-by to light a candle at Nottingham Cathedral, in remembrance of a loved one who has died. After a talk by the Little Company of Mary in St Barnabas Cathedral’s church hall at 11am, Bishop of Nottingham Patrick McKinney celebrated Mass at the cathedral. This was followed by Eucharistic adoration, led by the diocese’s Christus Vivit ministry, while Christmas shoppers were encouraged to visit the cathedral and light candles.

On Saturday November 13 volunteers from CLM (Christian Life Ministries) Church Coventry and the local community gathered at the headquarters of international aid charity Feed the Hungry in order to pack and seal 20,500 food parcels containing soya, lentils, rice and micronutrients. The food is destined for children and families in Lebanon, where over 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently reside, many of whom struggle to feed themselves and their families, a situation expected to get worse with the coming winter and the ongoing pandemic Esther Storey, Co-Senior Pasto of CLM Church Coventry said: “We already partner with a church in Lebanon which, for some years, has been providing extraordinary support to thousands of Syrian refugees. The recent economic crisis in the country has made the situation extremely difficult, plunging many Lebanese nationals also into crisis and food poverty. To be able to work with Feed the Hungry, to help provide food for both Syrian Refugees and our Lebanese friends has facilitated a very practical and simple way for us to help to make a difference. The food packing experience itself was brilliantly organised and led by the Feed the Hungry Team. It was great to be so practically involved and was fun to do alongside others – the sense of team together in what we were doing was very special.”

HCPT – The Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust – is supporting the cause for canonisation of its founder, Michael Strode. On 7 December, Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh will celebrate a Mass at Our Lady of Victories Church, Kensington to mark the start of the process, the launch of a website of the Committee for Brother Michael's Cause, and the beginning of an appeal for testimonials that could support the cause. Michael Strode was a Catholic doctor who founded the charity in 1956 to bring children with disabilities to Lourdes at Easter. Before the Covid pandemic it had become the largest children’s pilgrimage to Lourdes, involving thousands of children annually. In 1991 he joined the island community of Cistercian monks at Caldey.  Brother Michael died in December 2019, aged 96. 

Safe in Faith is a new initiative of Caritas Westminster, launched on 29 November. It is an interfaith network of counsellors, psychotherapists and pastoral staff working at the intersection of domestic abuse, sexual violence and exploitation, and religious faith. It will offer trauma–informed spiritual support for survivors of faith. The network will also support practitioners to support survivors, providing opportunities for training in working with trauma, abuse and exploitation networking and sharing good practice ideas. Speaking at the launch, Nikki Dhillon Keane said that survivors of faith can benefit from faith-literate support. She works with Caritas Westminster and has an advisory role with the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.  In the next phase of the project, applications can be made to register with the ‘Safe in Faith’ counselling directory in 2022. 

A 12-year-old pupil at Notre Dame Catholic College in Everton died on 25 November after being stabbed during an argument in Liverpool city centre. Ava White was with friends when she was assaulted at 20:40 GMT, shortly after the city's Christmas lights were switched on. Merseyside Police said she suffered “catastrophic injuries” and four teenage boys, aged between 13 and 15 and from Toxteth, were arrested on suspicion of murder. A 14-year-old has now been charged. Paying tribute to Ava, her head teacher Peter Duffy said the Year Eight pupil was a "much loved, valued and unique member of the Notre Dame family and she was an incredibly popular girl with a fantastic group of friends." He added that, "my staff are working with students to provide all the support they need at this traumatic time." Rebecca Flynn, her head teacher at Trinity RC Primary School, said she was a "popular and caring" girl who was "bright and respectful". A vigil is due to take place in the city centre on Saturday, 4 December at 6pm. Peace campaigner Colin Parry, whose son Tim was killed in the Warrington bomb in 1993, tweeted that Ava had been given a peace ambassador award by his charity in 2019 and her death was a "tragic loss". Ava died on what is called White Ribbon Day, a worldwide campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Ireland is dealing with an epidemic of crack cocaine and the violence that follows in its wake, Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin has warned. Speaking on the first Sunday of Advent, the Archbishop of Dublin lamented the normalisation of a drugs culture in Ireland. For some people taking drugs has become as normal as having a drink, he highlighted. Describing the epidemic as a societal issue which required a societal response, he said the causes were complex and deep seated. He appealed for a collective effort to address the “plague of drugs, which rages out of control”. He said: “I believe, based on the good will and the many dedicated efforts of community groups, government and religious leaders, that these causes can be addressed and the plague of drugs, which rages out of control, can be effectively addressed if we all work together.” He emphasised that the solution to the current drugs epidemic did not lie only in stemming the flood of illegal drugs, dismantling the drug gangs and cartels, more effective policing, reforming the criminal justice system, and investment in historically disadvantaged areas.  “It is also a matter of character. The real response is not just a better drugs programme, but a willingness to journey with the families whose members are ensnared by unscrupulous peddlers of drugs, peddlers of death,” he said.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided the Archdiocese of Dublin with an opportunity to rethink its priorities and reimagine how to support parish communities undertake radical renewal, a new report has said.  Last April, Archbishop Dermot Farrell established a Task Force called ‘Building Hope’ to assess the needs of the people of the Archdiocese of Dublin as they emerge from Covid-19. The Task Force’s report is based on the responses of some 3,000 people, mostly lay faithful, who shared their views. There was widespread acceptance of the need for change among the responses. The report highlights that of the 312 priests who currently hold parish appointments in the Archdiocese of Dublin, 139 are over 70 years of age. 116 of the 312 are on loan to the Archdiocese. There are currently just two students in formation for priesthood for Dublin. The report also reveals that a minority of marriages are now solemnised in religious ceremonies.  In 2016, the last year for which data are available, the population of the Archdiocese stood at 1.57 million, of whom just under 1.1 million, (70%), identified as Roman Catholic. Of those aged 25-29, just over half identified as Roman Catholic, while one-fifth of the total population recorded no religion.  More than one in seven Catholics in Dublin in 2016 were born outside the State.

On Monday 22 November, the House of Lords debated an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill on ministers of religion having access to crime scenes. The amendment was tabled by Conservative peer, and former Lords Leader, Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Crossbench peer, Baroness Masham of Illton, following the murder of Sir David Amess last month. It was tabled as a so-called “probing amendment” to give peers the opportunity to debate the matter and provide Government with an opportunity to respond. The debate took place the day before Sir David’s funeral in Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday 23 November. The Catholic Union briefed peers ahead of the debate on the importance of priests – and other ministers of religion – being able to visit those who are sick or dying. While not a Catholic herself, Baroness Stowell described the news that Sir David’s priest, Fr Jeffrey Woolnough, had not been able to administer him the Last Rites on the day he died as “surprising” and “upsetting”. She said it was “reasonable to expect the police to have an understanding of Christianity” given it remains the dominate religion in this country. A number of other peers contributed to the debate in a late night sitting of the House of Lords. The Anglican Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, called for “deeper religious literacy in our public life” and said we needed to challenge the view that religion was solely a private matter. Baroness Masham highlighted the need for a police force that was “kind, honest, and well-trained” to prevent what happened with David’s priest from happening again. Responding to the debate, Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford said that as a Catholic she recognised the importance of these matters. She said there was a “sensitive balance to strike” between respecting the duties of the police and wishes of the individual. Baroness Williams expressed concerned that new law creating a presumption for priests to access a crime scene “had the potential to prevent the police from doing their job effectively”, but she committed to meet representatives from the Catholic Union to discuss the matter. Baroness Williams also welcomed the creation of a joint group between the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Metropolitan Police to look into whether changes to guidance or training are needed. The amendment was not pushed to a vote – as is customary for Committee stage amendments – and the Bill continues its passage through Parliament.

The monks of Downside Abbey are continuing with their plans to move from their present home in Somerset and are planning to move to join their fellow Benedictines at Buckfast Abbey in Devon in the spring of 2022. According to an announcement from Downside the present plan is to take up residence in the grounds of Buckfast, where they will take over Southgate House and “live as the Community of St Gregory the Great”. The move is intended to be a temporary “stepping-stone”, giving the community time to consider where to establish a permanent home. The statement concluded: “We are grateful to the Buckfast community for generously offering us a place where we can continue to live as a united community and discern where God is calling us next. Please continue to keep the community in your prayers.”



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