Bishop John's Latest Pastoral letter
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, In Luke’s Gospel we read “The harvest indeed is great but the labourers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that he send labourers into His harvest”
I firmly believe that God has a definite purpose for each one of us. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was convinced that God
that God has committed some work to each one of us that He has not committed to another. We can all say, in his words, “I have my mission”.Discerning that
mission, or vocation, God will call as many men to the priesthood as are
needed, and men and women to religious life. We must do all that we can to
ensure that those who are called are listening and we must also be sure that
the priesthood and consecrated life to which they commit themselves are
appropriate for the needs of today’s Church, as envisaged by the Second Vatican
Council. The Council was greatly concerned with that sense of mission and
evangelisation that Pope Francis constantly emphasises in his letters and
communications to the Church. As “missionary disciples” we are all invited to
use our gifts in growing and strengthening our parish communities and taking
our Faith out to the wider community in service of all, particularly the
marginalised and the poor.
With our pastoral programme Hope in the Future, I believe that we are making good progress to develop and strengthen that sense of mission. Within that mission, the priest has a specific role. Over the last four years I have resisted any use of the phrase “shortage of priests” in this Diocese because, compared with just about every country in the world, we have a good number of priests for what is, geographically, a small Diocese. But we are certainly seeing a reduction in the number of priests in pastoral ministry and this will continue as we see more priests retiring than those being ordained.
In the last four years 24 priests have retired in this Diocese and seven have died in active ministry. Those thirty-one priests have been replaced by six newly ordained and the transfer of one priest into the Diocese. This imbalance is clearly estimated to continue in the next few years. The essential role of the priest is to provide sacraments to a parish community in the celebration of the Eucharist, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. He is the lead pastor who, with the assistance of lay ministers, ensures that there is care for the sick and the elderly of the parish community, for all those in any particular spiritual need, and catechesis for the young and on- going Faith formation for the whole community. He is the spiritual father of the community with a ministry of prayer for the people and for preaching the Word of God.
Any man, young or not so young, may hear a call to priesthood in a great variety of ways. He may feel drawn to priesthood by the example of a priest that he knows. He may discern a call to priestly service though his reading, prayer, thinking, or work experience. He may also benefit from the idea being suggested to him by another. That was certainly an important factor in my own life when, as a young schoolboy, a priest made the suggestion to me that sowed a seed in my own thinking. It is important that we recognise that the vocation to the priesthood is not something that just happens to someone, somewhere else. It must come from within our parishes and schools and families and we need to nurture the conversation that allows for priestly vocation to be spoken about and encouraged.
I would like to challenge the young men in our parishes to ask themselves if it is possible that God is calling them to priesthood. Are there young men and women called to religious life? I would like to challenge everyone to consider if they know of men and women who they believe have the qualities for such service in the Church. Would they have the courage to suggest that to them? And I would ask that we all make a fresh commitment to pray for vocations: that those whom God may be calling may hear that call and respond, with our active encouragement. Service as a priest does, in my own experience and in my knowledge of others, brings a great sense of fulfilment and happiness. It can be very demanding but it is packed with privileged moments of service to people in the most important moments of their lives. To join couples in marriage, to baptise new lives, to forgive in God’s name are a gift and joy. To walk with others in their time of bereavement or illness is humbling. I am so very grateful for priests in my life who have been the presence of Christ to me by their kindness and encouragement. I am sure that many would share that sense of gratitude.
The call to religious life also brings great fulfilment as men and women dedicate themselves to a particular quality of the Gospel, such as in teaching, nursing or care for the elderly – in the very deliberate sense of mission to others. Thank you for your care for and appreciation of the priests and religious of this Diocese. As we continue to develop our sense of mission in parishes, schools and family life, let us be sure to remove tasks from our priests and religious that can be done by others so that they may attend to all that they are specifically ordained and consecrated to do.
Let us ask in our daily prayer that the Lord will prompt and urge men and women to respond to His call so that, by their service, our Church may grow in its mission – making Christ ever more clearly present in our world.
Stay with us, Lord, on our journey
With my prayers and thanks for you, my brothers and sisters
+John Arnold Bishop of Salford
Pastoral letter (31st September 2017)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Wednesday 4th October is the Feast of Saint Francis. Saint Francis, you may recall, heard the Lord say to him “Francis, rebuild my Church.” On his feast day, in the Cathedral, we will be launching a programme for the whole Diocese called “Hope in the Future” which is about growing together as missionary disciples of Jesus, gathered in missionary parishes.
“Hope in the Future” is an opportunity for parishes and faith organisations to celebrate all that we already are and do and then, over a period of time, to identify and develop ways in which we may grow in our missionary purpose.
Pope Francis urges us to be aware of the poverty, isolation, marginalisation
needs of people around us and to bring the practical care of the Gospel to
them. In order to do that effectively we must always be strengthening our own
communities with a worthy celebration of the Sacraments, a life of prayer, an
effective and engaging catechesis of the faith for the young and those who may
feel drawn to our Church. We must be sure to look after our own community but
then be ready to bring our good works to others in need, our brothers and
sisters around us. The tragedy of the Manchester bomb has highlighted a need to
strengthen the sense of community in our towns and build bridges. We need to
respond with positive actions.
“Hope in the Future” is not a ‘one size fits all’ rigid programme. We have a great variety of parishes in urban, suburban and rural contexts, all with different strengths and needs. No two parishes are the same. This project is an invitation to every parish to celebrate all that is already good in its life, to recognise new possibilities and needs and to share best practice with other parish communities. It is an invitation to be positive, bold and imaginative.
Following the launch on 4th October we begin the journey together in Advent. I realise that, with all the changes going on around us, parishes will engage with this process at different speeds. But I do hope every parish will want to take part.
The first of the five stages is a celebration of all that we have and provide in our parishes – rather more, I believe, than we would imagine. Let us give thanks for all that is done in the name of the Gospel and for the generosity of so many people who offer their skills and gifts and time. But let us not be afraid to ask what more we might be doing to improve the world in which we live.
All five stages of “Hope in the Future” will be carefully introduced and resourced. Every parish is asked to form a small team which will ensure that any additional planning does not fall to the parish clergy as I am concerned that we must lighten their load and allow them to be all that God requires them to be in their priestly ministry.
I am hoping that every parish will be represented at the launch on Wednesday, by both priests and parishioners. Its success will depend, in no small manner, on the prayers and the good will of all the people in the Diocese and I ask for your active participation in both prayer and action. If we were all to undertake just one task in our parishes we would transform the witness we give and make a difference to the lives of so many people.
I want to thank you for the ready acceptance of change that is occurring in many parts of the Diocese. Following the completion of the Consultation, work has begun on the amalgamation of parishes and the re-appointing of clergy. I can well understand feelings of disappointment and loss but there seems to be a clear understanding of both need and opportunity. There will be further changes but I am very grateful for the generosity shown by so many as we pray and think and plan together for the Diocese and prepare our Church for future generations.
Our changes cannot simply be limited to a reconfiguring of parishes and decisions about church buildings. Our way of thinking and working must also change. Pope Francis has reminded us that the Second Vatican Council’s teaching about the role of the lay faithful has not, in many respects, been implemented and we have to recognise God’s gifts in each one of us and harness those gifts for the building of the Church in its mission. While fewer in number, we have sufficient priests if we are careful to ensure that they are left free for priestly ministry. There are so many aspects of ministry and administration in parish life that can be established, developed and enriched by the contribution of members of the community. Your commitment to the mission of the Church today is one of the greatest blessings in our Diocese. Thank you.
We are most certainly in challenging times. But the challenges will not overwhelm us. Do we really trust in the words of Jesus that “I am with you always, until the end of time”? Do we believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit who Jesus said would “remind you of everything that I said to you and will lead you in all truth?” If we can believe in these things then we can certainly step out with “Hope in the Future”
May our daily prayer always include that invitation to Jesus Himself; “Stay with us, Lord, on our journey”
Bishop of Salford