05 February 2024, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Catholic and Anglican bishops met in Norwich on 30-31 January for their seventh joint episcopal gathering.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales / Mazur

Christians are gearing up for a “no faith in fossil fuels” Lent vigil to pray that political leaders will make changes needed to address the climate crisis. The 10-day 24-hour Lent vigil outside Parliament begins on Ash Wednesday next week at 2:30pm.

The event has been organised by a coalition of groups, including Christian Climate Action, Cafod, A Rocha UK, Christian Aid, Green Christian, Operation Noah, the Salvation Army and Tearfund. Many other groups are signing up to support include Columban Missionaries in Britain, Churches Together in England team and Caterham Churches.

The Rosary will be said daily at midday. The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, joined the rota last weekend.


Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop Nicholas Hudson have written to priests of the Diocese of Westminster with an invitation to arrange two parish meetings in Lent to reflect on two topics of the 2021-2024 Synod process: co-responsibility and formation.

They wrote: “It will be a moment for us to pause and consider how we are, in fact, keeping this mission before our eyes and in doing so striving to act in a participative manner.”

The ongoing Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, which will conclude in October 2024, has the theme “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”.


More than 4,000 visitors to Nottingham Cathedral last weekend enjoyed an immersive light and sound experience designed around the architectural and spiritual beauty of Pugin’s architecture.

Visitors could listen to a programme of live sacred music, light  candle and take part in lantern-making workshops. The experience was part of Light Night which offers interactive light-based installations, performances and activities across the city.

The dean of the cathedral Canon Malachy Brett, said: “It’s exactly what a cathedral parish should be about – confidently and proudly opening its doors to the wider community and welcoming people in to experience the beauty of our Catholic faith, through our patrimony.”


Caritas Social Action Network is launching a new campaign, “Do Justice: A Vision for Spiritual and Civic Renewal in England and Wales”. Jenny Sinclair, founding director of Together for the Common Good, and Sir John Battle, former MP and trustee of Csan, will speak at an event in the London Jesuit Centre on 13 February.

Raymond Friel, Csan chief executive, told The Tablet: “I hope this campaign will act as an encouragement to the parishes and schools in England and Wales to take up the work of justice in their local communities, inspired by charity. We’re providing a range of resources to help communities to discern what they might do to spread the Kingdom of God in their locality.”


“Marriage is a sacrament of reconciliation,” said Bishop David Evans, the lead bishop for marriage and family life for England and Wales, in a message marking National Marriage Week (7-14 February).

Evans described marriage as “the sacrament that endures even though it may bring its difficulties”. The auxiliary bishop for Birmingham added that marriage “was a testimony to God’s forgiveness that unites what has been divided and brings unexpected discoveries of what men and women are capable of when they trust each other and stay steadfast to [their wedding] vows”.

The bishops’ have produced an eight-page document to encourage reflections for the week.  


On 12 February, an evening of poetry and music focused on the Anglican poet and writer Stevie Smith will be held St Augustine’s Abbey, near Guildford. Discovering Stevie Smith is a donation-only event focused on the work of Smith, including her well-known poem “Not Waving but Drowning”, which begins:

Nobody heard him, the dead man

But still he lay moaning: I was much further out than you thought 

And not waving but drowning.

The evening begins at 7.30pm in the Assisi Room of the Benedictine abbey in Chilworth. No booking required. 


Two English and seven Scottish nuns have appeared in court in Edinburgh accused of the physical and sexual abuse of children. They made no plea against charges including indecent assault, libidinous practices, and cruel and unnatural treatment of children.

All nine, who have been granted bail, are believed to be Sisters of Nazareth involved in the running of children’s homes in Aberdeen, Cardonald, Lasswade and Kilmarnock. In 2019, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry concluded that abuse had occurred at residential institutions run by the Sisters of Nazareth between 1933 and 1984 


Catholic and Anglican bishops held a meeting of ecumenical witness in Norwich from 30-31 January. The gathering of 42 bishops began with prayer at the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Norwich, followed by a visit to the shrine of the 14th-century mystic, Julian of Norwich.

During the seventh joint episcopal gathering, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols reflected on the Coronation service last May. All present attended choral evensong at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Norwich and heard talks on the Synodal journey in the Catholic Church and St John Henry Newman. 


A new initiative to tackle modern slavery across the Diocese of East Anglia is being set up and seeks volunteers.

In January, the Caritas East Anglia Commission and Bishop Peter Collins of East Anglia heard the first members of a new group in the diocese report that in 2022, around East Anglia, 746 people were found enslaved and rescued. They were found in organ harvesting, forced marriage, as children forced to carry drugs, or babies stolen and trafficked.

Modern-day slaves are often found, in such areas as car washes, nail bars, forced begging, and forced benefit fraud. 


Flame, the largest Catholic youth gathering in the UK, has been organised for 15 March 2025 and booking has opened. It hopes to welcome over 8,000 young people to the OVO Arena, Wembley, for a day of inspirational speakers, world-class Christian musicians and moments of prayer and Adoration.

Youth leaders and young people themselves have highlighted the transformative experience that Flame, a biennial event, has provided for young people. 

The theme for Flame 2025 is “Unstoppable – Fan the Flame of Hope!” It echoes the 2025 Jubilee theme, declared by Pope Francis: “Pilgrims of Hope”. Early bird discounts have been provided to help make the day as accessible as possible.


The Irish Ambassador to the Holy See, Frances Collins, hosted the Irish Religious Sisters’ photo exhibition “Daring to Hope” at St Isidore’s Franciscan Friary as part of celebrations in Rome for St Brigid’s Day. 

The social history exhibition was also hosted by the International Union Superiors General (UISG) and displayed during an international event organised by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Consecrated Life. The photographs were provided by religious congregations and societies and show how Irish Religious Sisters have responded to the call of the Gospel. 


The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, has welcomed the restoration of the Stormont Executive. On social media, he encouraged “all to work together for the common good and peace by immediately addressing pressures facing families, the poor and vulnerable in our society”.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has become the first Catholic to hold the position of First Minister. The DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly will serve as Deputy First Minister. The 10 incoming ministers have signed a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, warning him that the £3.3 billion financial package offered to the executive will not put Northern Ireland’s public services on a secure footing.


Former Republic of Ireland soccer star, John Aldridge, has paid tribute to the Irish Church’s National Marian Shrine of Knock, Co Mayo.

In a post on social media, the former Liverpool, Real Sociedad, Oxford, Tranmere and Newport County player published a selfie in front of Knock Basilica, saying: “In the shrine in Knock folks. What a spiritual place. Said a few prayers including the quadruple and Jurgen to change his mind.”


A Troon parish priest is to be the new Bishop of Dunkeld. Pope Francis has nominated Glasgow-born Fr Martin Chambers to succeed Bishop Stephen Robson, who retired on health grounds in December 2022.

Archbishop William Nolan of Glasgow came to know Fr Chambers while serving as Bishop of Galloway, welcomed his “enthusiasm, pastoral sensitivity and humour”. Stephen Robson paid tribute to Fr Chambers’ work as a missionary priest in Ecuador and his broad experience in Galloway.

Fr Chambers pledged himself “to sit in prayer as a disciple at the feet of Jesus, listening to his voice calling me forward in faith”. He also noted that his appointment had a certain symmetry: he had been accepted into seminary by Bishop Joseph McGee of Galloway who had started out in Dunkeld. He was now returning the compliment by coming in the opposite direction.

With the appointment of Fr Chambers, and recently of Fr Frank Dougan as the new Bishop of Galloway, the Scottish Bishops’ Conference is once again complete.

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