My dear brothers and sisters,
I certainly had hoped that this letter would not need to be written and that by Lent 2021 we would have returned to free access to our churches which could fill to capacity and have no need for special sanitising and social distancing. I had thought we might be free of face masks and at liberty to talk together as we left church. That is not to be so. It is possible that some restrictions may be lifted during Lent, but some will undoubtedly remain. We must accept the circumstances in which we find ourselves and establish guidelines and encouragement for the Season of Lent, while keeping one another safe.
There is no doubt that the sense of celebrating “Church at Home” has appealed to many people during this past year and borne fruit for a more personal spirituality, without losing the sense of the parish community. If our personal prayer is strengthened during this difficult time, the sense of community can be the stronger as we emerge from lockdown and other restrictions. I remain very grateful for all the initiatives taken to maintain good contact and communication, especially with the housebound and isolated members of our communities.
There are the three signposts for our attention during Lent: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. These are themes for self-examination. Can they be the means for challenging ourselves, particularly in the experience of the Covid-pandemic, for re-setting our priorities, and stimulating action and change?
I am preparing videos to be available during Lent on each of these themes by which I would hope to invite you to review your own personal understanding and response to each one.
I would like to encourage a sense of freedom in prayer. We have, of course, our important formula prayers such as the Our Father and Hail Mary, and all the prayers of our liturgies, but I wonder how free people feel about prayer as a conversation, a chat, with God or with the saints? I wonder, too, how we feel about where we pray? Do we realise that we can effectively pray at home, in the street, at our workplace? Prayer does not have to be in church. We can talk to God in prayer at anytime, anywhere. There are lots of resources online these days, for example Pray as You Go, which can help us to pray on the way to work or when out walking or in a quiet place at home. You can find the website easily enough; PRAY AS YOU GO (www.pray-as-you-go)
Fasting has its role in all the major world religions. It promotes a sense of self-discipline and can be a means by which we prepare for prayer or some form of spiritual exercise. In our own context, living as we do in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, we might employ fasting to recognise just how much we have in comparison to so many of our brothers and sisters. Please remember the CAFOD Family Fast Day this year on Friday 26th February. Even if you cannot pick up one of the CAFOD envelopes from church, do please fast in some way and give the money you
save to help CAFOD help others. Once again, the CAFOD website is easy to find; (www.cafod.org.uk) – and you might even want to sign up for this year’s CAFOD Walk for Water initiative.
Our understanding of fasting might well help us to be aware of the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor in our world. Even in our advanced technological age we are failing to care for one another, and we see the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. 1% of the world’s population has 50% of the world’s wealth. There can be no justification for that, especially when so many people in that 99% live in abject poverty, dying of starvation. Almsgiving helps us to begin to right this wrong. It is not a matter of us being generous to those in need but beginning to tip the balance in the right direction We need to recognise also that we do not have to look to the distance to acknowledge poverty, it is very evident in the streets of our own cities and towns. In this year dedicated to St. Joseph, I commend to you the work of Caritas Diocese of Salford, known to many of you from your school days as St. Joseph’s Penny. If you can, simply look online for Caritas Salford (www.caritassalford.org.uk)
If you do not have access to the internet, I hope the information about these suggestions will be printed in your parish newsletters or available in church. They are only suggestions – there are many ways of making this Lent holy.
Some of our churches are closed at this time and may remain so for some weeks to come. Ash Wednesday will be celebrated in some of our churches and the ashes will be sprinkled on our heads rather than marked on our foreheads. Careful consideration will be given to the way that we may be able to celebrate Holy Week so please watch for news about your local church. There remains no obligation to attend Mass at this time, but you are welcome to live-stream one of the many Masses being celebrated in the Diocese and beyond. I hope that you will be able to sense the importance of the Season of Lent for yourselves and see how God is at work in your lives, even – and particularly - in these strangest of times.
Lent, of course, means springtime. The new life is beginning to break through the soil all around us. May we, after all these months, prepare to celebrate the new life of Easter.
Lent must be different this year because of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed on our ability to meet together. Let us take the opportunity to consider Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving in a new way and give time to the challenges that these present to each one of us.
And throughout Lent we pray “Stay with us, Lord, on our Journey”.
God bless you all,
Bishop of Salford
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the first place, I would like to wish you all a Hope-filled, happier and healthier New Year; one in which we may rise to the challenges and opportunities of our response to the pandemic, renewing those Gospel values which will make us more attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters, our global family, and care for our common home. I do believe that there are important choices to be considered, in which we will all have our part to play. Today, I am writing to you about two important, and connected, matters.
The final Sunday of this month, January 31st, is dedicated, in this Diocese, to the work of Caritas Diocese of Salford. You may well be familiar with at least some of the wide range of work and projects that are undertaken by Caritas. Its whole focus of activity is the commitment of putting Faith into action by responding to emergencies, helping people to transform their lives and emerge from poverty in all its forms, and advocating change in our society so that everyone may live with dignity, in a sustainable way.
There is much work to be done. While we live in the sixth wealthiest nation, the statistics indicate that all too many people are not included in this prosperity. For example, there are 70-80 people sleeping on the streets in central Manchester every night, while many families are in inadequate and temporary housing, vulnerable to eviction. A recent government survey estimated that over one million people in this country are isolated and alone, even before the pandemic arrived. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression and mental illness. Even the increasing adoption of the real living wage still means that many families, even where the adults are employed, do not have adequate resources to provide healthy food for their children. All too many people are marginalised as if, as Pope Francis says, they have been “thrown away”
Our Faith has a very practical priority. We are asked to love our neighbours as ourselves and that love must include a constant care for the well-being of others. There should be no need for foodbanks and night shelters but, while ever there is the need, we as Christians must strive to provide them.
The Covid pandemic has caused so much more poverty, unemployment, and distress but I believe that we have every good reason to be proud of the work of Caritas and its diverse engagement in the social problems of our times. Caritas has been able, because of your generosity, to continue its services throughout this difficult time. Thank you for all that you have done, by generous giving and volunteering, to make Caritas all that it is today. I can only ask that this good work is enabled to continue so that no-one is beyond reach and no-one is marginalised or left behind. Your gift in the retiring collection on Caritas Sunday is even more important in these difficult times.
My second reason for writing to you concerns our preparation for the future. Since my arrival in Salford, in 2014, we have carried out a re-structuring of parishes which has been mainly due to the reduction in the number of priests, and the diminishing of large Catholic communities. Now we must look carefully at the way we must expect our parishes to flourish in the increasing secularisation of the times in which we live. Given the disruption to parish life over the last year, we have also to consider carefully how best we organise our sacramental programmes and the preparation and celebration of Baptisms, First Reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation during these days of pandemic.
I have asked Fr Paul Daly, the Episcopal Vicar for Formation, to extend his role, both in planning for our immediate needs in sacramental provision and for developing our various adult formation programmes which will be essential in our “Journey to 2030” when our parishes will need to function in a very different way. Parishes will need to be increasingly reliant on the contribution of their parishioners in many and diverse ways. Fr Paul has agreed to relinquish his role as parish priest so as to be more available to assist others in developing parish formation. I am very grateful to him for his readiness to undertake this extended role which is initially intended for one year but may be extended according to need. Fr Paul will be working from Cathedral Centre and visiting parishes.
Despite the advent of vaccines, this time of pandemic will be with us for some time to come. Even with the gloom, anxiety, and frustration of living through these days, I am optimistic that we can set ourselves a new road, with better priorities for our Church and our nation and our world. I believe that much good can be achieved and we must remain adamant in our prayer, as we ask: “Stay with us, Lord, on our Journey”.
With my best wishes for all that lies ahead in this New Year and my thanks for all that is being achieved through your goodness and generosity.
Bishop of Salford
Given on the Feast of Corpus Christie
If you would like to the Bishop read his letter used this sound link.
My dear brothers and sisters, I want to write to you and assure you that my thoughts and prayers are with you all, at this time. There are many resources available on the Diocesan website and being circulated among parish communities, by Catholic organisations and among small groups. It has been very encouraging to see so many positive and practical initiatives during these difficult times – not least in the live-streaming of Masses, liturgies, and devotions. My thanks and sincere appreciation to all who have been so imaginative in minimising the impact of physical isolation and allowing people to feel included and a part of community in so many different ways. This includes the contact by phone and other initiatives for those who do not have access to the internet and live streaming. All churches were closed in March by government directive out of concern for the safety and well-being of people. Public gatherings were banned as an attempt to limit the danger of contagion. And safety must continue to be our priority as we move towards the re-opening of churches. Even when churches are
allowed to re-open on Monday 15th June, not all churches will be able to re-open at once. It is intended that several named churches, spread around the Diocese, will be ready to open for private prayer, and are currently being prepared. Other churches will follow as quickly as it can be assured that they are able to fulfil the conditions for cleanliness, and social distancing. All parishes will be assisted in these preparations. It is likely to be several more weeks before we will be able to celebrate Mass publicly and, even when that is possible, social distancing will limit the numbers of people able to attend – even in our largest church buildings. We must all be patient. We are under no obligation to attend Mass during this time, and making spiritual communion is a powerful way to welcome Christ into our lives at home. During this time, we have every reason to be grateful to all who have been working on the frontline, in hospitals, care homes, in the community and emergency services and all those ensuring vital supplies. Many of them are our own parishioners. It is real faith in action. It is important that we continue to remember those who have died and those who have lost loved ones during this time. It must be particularly difficult to have the funeral of a loved one under present circumstances. In addition to any individual Requiem Mass or Memorial Service for those who have died during this period, it will be important that each parish has some form of special Memorial Services to which all the bereaved are invited as an opportunity to support each other in faith. The limitations on our personal freedom should not restrict, in any way, our lived practice of our Faith. On the contrary, we are being called to re-visit and develop our private prayer, our understanding that – wherever we are – we are the Church, members of the Body of Christ. We are invited to build that sense of “Church at home”, renewing the reality stated in St John’s Gospel “Remain in me as I in you” (Jn 15:7), and “He is with you, He is in you” (Jn 14:17). Christ lives in us wherever we may be. I am so impressed by the many creative ways that people have found to encourage each other in prayer. Hopefully, this will continue in our journey ahead, centred on Christ and guided in prayer. Pope Francis is adamant that we are best able to express ourselves as Church when we can come together for the celebration of the Sacraments, to pray together and then to go out as missionary disciples, especially to the poor and the marginalised. But Pope Francis also recognises that this is not always possible but that does not restrict us from being Church and “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). And during this difficult time of not having access to our churches and while we are unable to participate fully in Mass and other liturgies we can be in solidarity with those many Catholics throughout the world who, because of persecution or military conflict, are unable to receive sacraments for years on end. There are many people, in the squalor of refugee camps, who have no access to a place of prayer or sacrament. But they are very clearly Catholics to be admired for their strength of Faith. We must now be absolutely sure to think globally and understand the impact that we have on one another throughout the world, and how we depend on others as they depend on us. We can no longer simply look inwards to our own needs and welfare. In these last three months many of us have been living our lives quite differently with our walking and cycling, reduced shopping. Is this a sign of a “new normal”? The pandemic has taught us that we are all so closely connected, across all nations, which is a lesson that Pope Francis has been teaching, particularly in his encyclical letter “Laudato Si”, where he appeals to us all to recognise our duties to all our brothers and sisters and our care for our common home. It is said that we are the first generation that has learned about the damage that we are doing to our environment and we may be the last generation to be able to avoid irreversible damage for future generations. The recent violence in the United States is a further reminder of our need to think globally and to recognise the dignity of every person of whatever colour, creed, or gender. We are privileged to be entrusted with the challenge which, with the grace and power of God, working in us and through us, we can achieve for our children’s future. Let us make the pandemic a steppingstone to a brighter and safer world for all. Governments will need to collaborate, globally. Industry and technology must develop in more environmentally sustainable ways. Every one of us must be determined to promote that global thinking and care in our homes and parishes and communities. “Stay with us, Lord, on our Journey” We ask the intercession of Mary, Our Mother, in a prayer of St Pope John Paul II ‘Mary, woman clothed with the sun, help us to fix our gaze on Christ amid the inevitable sufferings and problems of everyday life. Help us not to be afraid of following him to the very end, even when the cross seems unbearably heavy. Make us understand that this alone is the way which leads to the heights of salvation. And from heaven, where you shine forth as Queen and Mother of Mercy. Watch over each one of your children.’ Yours devotedly,
I am very grateful for the developments, in many parishes, recognising the good works that are already being achieved and with the promotion of leadership teams and the increase in the number of people volunteering for specific tasks in both pastoral ministry and administration. I am also aware that some parishes have needed to delay some of the planning and actions required by Hope in the Future. This was expected due to the changes in the Diocese with the movement of priests to new appointments and the amalgamation of parishes. Hopefully, as these parishes progress with their own implementation of Hope in the Future, they will draw on the experience of the parishes that have moved ahead. Those who have not completed Stages One and Two should not feel that they cannot embark now on Stage Three. In a sense it stands alone and does not require the previous stages in order to be of value.
In recent times it may be said Sunday has simply become just another day of the week. Although an increasing number of people are required to work on Sundays, most of us still have the opportunity to give time and importance to our faith and make our Sundays special. We must not lose or
devalue this ancient command to keep the Sabbath day holy. It is in the celebration of Sunday that we nourish our faith through the Eucharist and strengthen ourselves for our missionary work throughout the week. Sundays are also important occasions to spend time together as families. For so many newly formed parishes, this can be a way of celebrating and building a new sense of parish family.
During this stage of “Hope in the Future”, resources will be made available to help in enriching our Sunday liturgy. As we begin this Stage, I wonder how many of us might have to admit that we perhaps forget the importance of what we are celebrating at Mass and as we receive communion? It might have become a part of a routine. Yes, it is important that we are at Mass, but do we properly prepare for the privilege of receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist? During this coming year I would be grateful if two practical measures could be put in place that may help us in our appreciation of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
In the first place, I would like it to be the practice across our Diocese that Holy Communion under both kinds be made available, wherever possible, and with suitable catechesis, at both Sunday and weekday Masses. This was specifically promoted in a series of documents following the Second Vatican Council. In many parishes it has been a long-established tradition. I would not envisage there ever being a shortage of Eucharistic Ministers to assist the priest in providing this opportunity. I have written a separate letter to all parish priests to make reference to key documents that promote this practice.
While it is true that receiving Holy Communion under one kind alone is to receive Our Lord whole and entire, it is also true that the Lord invited us to ‘take and drink’ as well as to ‘take and eat’. It is right, where possible, to respond to this invitation of Our Lord. In this way, and in many others we will examine in this coming year, we can deepen our reverence towards, and understanding of, the real presence of the Lord who gives himself to us, and continue to grow in appreciation of the Mass as a personal encounter with our loving Saviour.
Secondly, I would be very pleased to see times of Eucharistic Adoration being observed in all parishes. In some parishes where this has been promoted, many would feel that it has had a significant positive impact on the life and energy of the community. In the short term, adoration may be easily achieved for short periods, perhaps before or after Mass or other liturgies. This, of course, requires supervision and the constant presence of people. In the longer term, parishes may wish to consider permanent exposition, devised in a way that guarantees the security of the Blessed
Sacrament. We already have a few parishes with small chapels dedicated to permanent exposition.
I believe that these two measures may have a very significant and valuable impact in our Diocese.
In former times, so many of our churches remained open throughout the day and the present practice of closing churches, apart from the times they are used for Mass and other liturgies, is something that is greatly regretted by many people. Might parishes consider keeping churches open during the day when possible, with whatever security measures are needed?
Using the resources which will be available, I hope that we can be sure to enrich our own celebration of our Sunday Mass, for our own benefit and as a preparation for our missionary work each day as we seek to live as “ambassadors for Christ” in our daily lives. But I hope that this will also have an impact on the many people who have either drifted away from the practice of their faith, or even prove to be an effective invitation to people who are seeking faith in their lives and feel drawn to our Church.
I am sure that this next stage of Hope in the Future can benefit us all. The Mass reminds us that the Lord is with us on our journey and he promised his disciples that he would always be with them, until the end of the age. He is present to us in the Eucharist and precious to us in the reception of Holy Communion.
God bless you for all that you do.
Bishop of Salford
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