Archive for April, 2014

This weekend sees a remarkable day. Two ‘recent’ popes will be canonised by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square, Rome on Sunday – the Feast of the Divine Mercy. Good Pope John 23rd from Bergamo Province in Lombardy, Northern Italy, was Pope from 28 October 1958 to the 3 June 1963. He was from a peasant family of share-croppers, just like the majority, who lived simple lives in the small village of Sotto il Monte; he was the first born son, with 13 other siblings.

John Paul II was from Poland; our Holy Father from 16 October 1978 to 2 April 2005, he was the youngest of three children born, in Wadowice, a southern Polish town near Krakow.

Understandably, there is a sense of growing excitement at the coming celebrations; I was talking to Fr. Cyril two days ago; he is presently studying in Rome, and he told me then, that Rome is filling up with people keen to be present for the canonisation of these two great papal figures.

 Pic 2

Pope John Paul 2                     Pope John 23

 Both of these holy men were Popes in my lifetime. I remember John 23rd very well. When he died, I felt a strange emptiness, as though I had lost a close friend. The BBC even headlined his death, as the main story on the news, and many people who were not Catholics, also mourned his passing. A simple man and ‘man of the people’, he was a winner of hearts and minds. He often used to make jokes and I remember hearing one of them that, quite unusually, still sticks in my mind. When his family came to visit him in the Vatican, they were not from the upper ranks of Italian society, but ordinary folk of Sotto il Monte, and that area. One of them, curious about the Vatican  and the scale of its operation, as a whole, asked his brother how many people worked in the Vatican. John 23rd answered with a slight grin, “about half”!

 Pic 3

 Pope John 23 at the Vatican Council

When a person is canonised, it is an absolute requirement that two miracles should be able to be attributed, directly, to that person. I read, today, that for John 23rd Pope Francis declared him a saint, based on his merits in the opening the Second Vatican Council, on 5 July 2013. He will be canonised alongside John Paul II, this coming Sunday.  John XXIII is today affectionately known as the “Good Pope”, (in Italian, “il Papa buono”). His feast day will not be celebrated on the date of his death, as is usual, but will be on 11 October, the day of the First Session of the Second Vatican Council. He is also commemorated, within the Anglican Communion, with a feast day on 4 June. Pope John 23rd is noted, most of all, for his calling of the Second Vatican Council, which lasted from 1962 to 1965.

Pope John Paul II was Pope for a very long time; on his election, he achieved a little fame, because he was the first non-Italian Pope for centuries; he told the people in St Peter’s Square, on the day he was announced as Pope, that he came from “a faraway country”, echoing the prophet Isaiah 13: 5. He was the first Pope to travel very extensively. I remember him coming to Britain, and I saw him personally, in London, at a meeting of Religious men and women, and in Cardiff, at Ninian Park – the Cardiff City football ground. He made a great impression on me, when he said to the young people, present, that they should remember the Pope and asked them all to be people of prayer. The background to that visit was the conflict over the Falkland Islands, and the Pope made impassioned pleas for peace – peace and no war. War, he said, is a thing of the past. However, Britain and Argentina went to war, and I remember sending a letter to an Argentinian Salesian, a man who later became a bishop, telling him that the Religious in our country, who belonged to the Focolare Movement, wanted to pray with the Religious of Argentina, and assure them that we did not want this war. The Salesian replied, assuring me of the same. It was an emotional moment, for me, when I received that letter. All this was inspired by a similar message, sent by the young people of the Focolare Movement, in both countries.

I was also impressed at how Pope John Paul II gave himself, publicly, to the people, and even lived his dying, in public. I am certain that he had learned the great lesson life – that of living in communion with others – something that reminds me, again, of my friend Manfred Kochinky, a German national, who died last year after an illness. He lived the spirituality of communion, trying to be united with all, so that Jesus was always with him, as is promised in Matthew 18:20. “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them”. He also shared his illness and his dying, seeing even in his sufferings “diamond” moments, and many were encouraged to face the challenges of their lives by the actions of Manfred.

Pope John Paul II will be remembered for many things, but one that strikes me, was the way he forgave the Turkish man Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to assassinate him.

His feast day will be held on October 22 each year.

 Pic 4

 Pope John Paul 2 meets and forgives his would be assassin

Fr. Jonathan Cotton OSB

There are different views about Pope Francis. One is that he is a person who has already radically changed the Church. Another is that he has done very little ‘in fact’.

Personally, I agree with those who think that Pope Francis has done a lot to change the Church. A priest friend of mine in Ireland says he feels much ‘freer’, as a priest in a Dublin parish, than he ever did before. Furthermore, he is so popular in discussion; when I went away to an international retreat for men in Religious Life, everyone from many countries in Europe and further afield was talking about him – and most interestedly so.

pic 3

However, I have met those who have a certain authority in the Church. There are some who say that what the Pope has done, so far, does not amount to anything practical, and really amounts to nothing at all, but not all in authority would fall into this category – not by any stretch of the imagination.  

It was a surprise therefore to discover in this week’s secular magazine, “The Economist”, an article precisely on this subject. I would like to quote it quite extensively, in this blog: it is written inevitably from a human point of view, not from a divine one. In business terms and is revealing. 

BUSINESS SCHOOLS regularly ‘teach their students about great “turnaround CEOS ” who breathe new life into dying organisations: figures such as IBM’S Lou Gerstner, Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne and Apple’s Steve Jobs. Now Harvard Business School needs to add another case study: Jorge Bergoglio, the man who has rebranded RC Global in barely a year. 

When Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter as CEO just after being appointed, the world’s oldest multinational was in crisis. Pentecostal competitors were stealing market share in the emerging world, including in Latin America, where Francis ran the Argentine office. In its traditional markets, scandals were scaring off customers and demoralising the salesforce. Recruitment was difficult, despite the offer of lifetime employment in a tough economy. The firm’s finances were also a mess. Leaked documents revealed the Vatican bank as a vortex of corruption and incompetence. The board was divided and weak. Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pope to resign for 600 years, amid dark rumours that the founder and chairman, a rarely seen elderly bearded figure whose portrait adorns the Sistine boardroom, had intervened. 


In just a year, the business has recovered a lot of its self-confidence. The CEO is popular: 85% of American Catholics-a tough audience-approve of him. Footfall in RC Global’s retail outlets is rising again. The salesforce now talks about a “Francis effect”. How has a septuagenarian Argentine succeeded in galvanising one of the world’s stodgiest outfits? Essentially by grasping three management principles. 

The first is a classic lesson in core competences. Francis has refocused his organisation on one mission: helping the poor. One of his first decisions was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile detention centre. He got rid of the fur trimmed velvet capes that popes have worn since the Renaissance, swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.

This new focus has allowed the company to spend fewer resources on ancillary businesses, such as engaging in doctrinal disputes or staging elaborate ceremonies. The “poor first strategy” is also aimed squarely at emerging markets, where the potential for growth is greatest but competition fiercest. 

Along with the new strategic focus, the pope is employing two management tools to good effect. One is a brand repositioning. He clearly continues to support traditional teaching on abortion and gay marriage, but in a less censorious way than his predecessors (“Who am I to judge?” he asked of homosexuals). The other is a restructuring. He has appointed a group of eight cardinals (“the C8″) to review the church’s organisation and brought in McKinsey and KPMG (“God’s consultants”) to look at the church’s administrative machinery and overhaul the Vatican bank. 

Will it work? Established critics, maintain it is all incense, smoke and mirrors. Others insist that more sweeping change, including a bigger role for women, is needed. The chairman’s attitude is unknown. Some analysts interpret the absence of plagues of boils and frogs as approbation; others point out that He moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. 

Father Jonathan

On Friday 4th April 2014, about 450 people gathered to celebrate the exact day 50 years ago that our Church was opened by Archbishop Beck of Liverpool in the presence of a huge number of people. Both events were important milestones in the history of our parish which began in 1845.  

pic 1

In 1845, I wonder what those first monks, who came here to live from St. Mary’s, Bamber Bridge, or Brownedge parish, as it is affectionately called, had as their vision, when they founded the new ‘Leyland Mission’. I would suspect it was a practical idea that inspired them. There was a job to be done, a duty to be fulfilled, the conversion of England to the one, true Catholic faith. It is probable that the Leyland people had trudged, bravely, to Brownedge, Euxton or Brindle, in all kinds of weather, for Sunday mass. Now these good people deserved their own place of worship; at first, the Masses were said in the front room of the big red house on Worden Lane, next to the façade of our old Church. This was acquired by a famous Ampleforth monk, Fr. Brewer OSB, who was the Provincial of the Northern Province of the English Benedictines. The first church was later built and opened in 1865, on adjacent land to that house, and the parish was named St. Andrew’s parish. The parish later changed its patronage to St. Mary, because the Anglican Church across the road, also has Saint Andrew as its patron, this from medieval times. The little flock of Catholic farmers and workers were strong and stubborn in their beliefs, as they had endured centuries of persecution. As Frank Harrison says, in his history of St. Mary’s, Leyland, (p. 17): “The feelings of this congregation, the first over 300 years to hear Mass without fear in their own village can only be imagined.” It could have been from a sense of defensive co- existence with the “non-Catholics” that the parish of St. Mary’s Leyland was begun.

pic 2

 In 1964, Fr. Edmund FitzSimons, the parish priest with the vision and drive to see through the construction of the new building, presented his own ideas underlying our new Church. They too were practical. He himself made a balsa wood model of his initial idea of the Church: it was octagonal, about the same size as the present church, seating one thousand people and innovative. His ideas were clear: “there are two essentials for a church: that the people can see and they can hear what is going on”.  

pic 2a

The problem in long, oblong, churches, the norm for cathedrals and large churches, people could hide behind pillars and go to the back where they gravitated by preference. Fr. FitzSimons designed the back seats to be eight rows from the altar, and with unrestricted viewing. He also made a prophetic statement when he said that he hoped posterity would benefit from his first venture into the world of architecture. He also said something else that gives an insight into his mind: “Just because a church is modern, there is no reason why it should not be made as beautiful as possible”. This has certainly happened, for the Church building has been considered the best modern Catholic Church in Britain – the conclusion of the new architecture competition, launched by the National Churches Trust, the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association and the Twentieth Century Society. The final prizes were given in November 2013 at Lambeth Palace.  In this competition, our own St. Mary’s was awarded the ‘Silver Medal’.

The reason for building in the early 1960’s was the rapid expansion in the population of Leyland – this in the midst of a Central Lancashire New Town development – and Father may have thought it probable that the Church could end up as a new cathedral, for a newly formed diocese. After all, when the English Congregation of Benedictine monks began again overseas, in the Low Countries, or France, in the early 17th. Century, the dream was that, in an England restored to Catholicism, Benedictines might again take over the cathedrals of England, as in medieval times. Those were heady, optimistic, days for the Catholic Church.

pic 3

St Mary’s Leyland today can be truly grateful to God for his care for us as a parish in the past 50 years. His providence is quite exceptional for us. Let us take the economics of the parish: in 2012 we had no money with which to pay for a new heating system. By 2013 December it was installed, working well, and paid for. Since 1979 £1 million pounds has been spent on the parish and the Priory house making improvements, repairs and developments. A debt of £150K, and more, has been wiped out. At the same time, the generosity of parishioners to help the poor and the needy, has grown. Including all charitable giving, from schools and parish – together with one-off giving to good causes – we donated £30K a year, at least; and it’s not as though we have a massively expanding congregation. To know God’s Love for us, personally, as well as a community of faith, is an essential starting point to have faith in God and his Son Jesus Christ.

Question – what is the vision, presented to us, today, for St. Mary’s Leyland parish? An anniversary of the opening of a new Church is a good moment to reflect on it. Parishes are not just convenient groups of people, who happen to be Catholics, living in a certain locality. Rather, a parish is a divinely inspired group of people, who are the body of Christ, in a particular place; it continues to be: ‘the Church living the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. (John Paul 11 Christifideles Laici 26). According to Pope Francis, ‘the parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.” (Evangelli Gaudium 28)

A parish is to be the presence of Christ Jesus in the local place. This implies the parishioners live out the Lord’s commandment, that he calls his own and new: “Love one another as I have loved you”. (John 13: 34). When parishioners truly attempt to do that, then they would, inevitably, find that they would: love the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their strength and with all their mind. (Luke 10: 27). It implies that the aim of parishioners should be warmly to welcome everyone, beginning with their fellow parishioners, and then everyone else; those who may or not be regular worshippers each Sunday at Mass, those who may not be living according to the normal rules of the Church, and those who do not know Jesus Christ and have rejected him. (see, Joy of the Gospel 15). Jesus’ own commandment does not imply that only Catholics, who are in the fullest communion with their church, can make his words their own. “Love one another as I have loved you”, does not put any particular restriction on those who can be included! It is just a very difficult ideal to achieve; eventually, it leads to the presence, locally, of Jesus among his people gathered in his name, (cf Mt 18:20) and that is impossible without divine intervention.

pic 4

We hope to contribute up to £10K for the new Church desperately needed in Fr. Celso’s parish in Guinea Bissau, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Our Parish, in the particular context of Leyland St Mary’s, therefore, needs to provide a home that people can feel is theirs; parishioners must be outward-looking, even if only a minority of them form a small group of the population of Leyland; parishioners need to work with the other Christians of all denominations around them; parishioners need to be open to the poor of the area – and the poor outside our area; parishioners need to have an openness to believers of other faiths, and to non-believers who are people of good will.

We may, then, be in peace, leaving to God in his Son, Jesus Christ, who will be constantly alive among the people, if such a vision is accepted and real; we can be sure, he will assist us in the present to remain joyful and dedicated Catholic Christians, despite the ungodly context of England in which we live, and Jesus will lead us into the future to fulfil his plan for Leyland Parish and the Church as a whole.

Father Jonathan