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Archbishop Mark's Listening Process

Please click here to find the resources on the Diocese of Menevia website


 

REFLECTION FOR LENT 2021 ARCHBISHOP GEORGE STACK 

Lent 2021 will be unlike any Lent in living memory – or even beyond. The crisis of the pandemic, enforced isolation, the economic crisis, the food crisis and the right of children to their education means that, willingly or not, we have been driven into a desert and are being forced to realise that “Man does not live by bread alone”. 

The three temptations of Jesus in the desert before he undertook his public ministry have always been the framework and pattern of our Lenten exercises. The gospel of Matthew portrays the “gods” of human satisfaction: food, material possessions, power, influence, control. These are the things to be worshipped, the objects of adulation. They take on a whole new meaning when we set them beside the challenges we face as individuals and as a society in discerning our priorities, re-discovering meaning, asking what is of true value in life, particularly during Lent in these COVID 19 times.

 

This year, “The journey out to the desert” may not lead to exotic holidays or sandy beaches, no matter what inducements are offered by travel companies! The journey to the desert within is already being made, not least by those suffering major illness caused by COVID 19. It has certainly been made by the 100.000 people who have died as a result of COVID. The emptiness and sadness in the lives of those who mourn their loss contains its own desert experience of grieving and loss. 

The journey into the desert during this time, the journey within, is as significant to those without religious faith as it is to those blessed with that faith. The big questions of life are addressed to us all – made even more poignant by life’s fragility both personally and publicly during this enforced time of pain and suffering. Why are we here? What ultimate meaning does life have? Do we control nature or do we need to care more for it? What constitutes the Good? And what - if anything - will happen after death? 

Those questions always bubble away under the surface. Rarely are they addressed because we “do not have the time or space”. This enforced time and space, this enforced desert, has given us plenty of each. Like most desert experiences, it is unwelcome. The radio program “Desert Island Discs” is a graphic reminder of survival without the props we build around ourselves. 

The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Church realised the physical desert - symbolising the inner desert - was the only “place” to be alone with the self. The only place, ultimately, to be with God. 

“Bubbles” are composed not just of human beings – no matter how close the family may be. Bubbles have been created in financial markets, residential and property markets,sky scraping offices,unregulated credit and so much else. Both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have written powerfully on the dangers of exploitation of peoples by market forces and the exploitation of creation itself by the destruction of the natural habitats of the world all in the name of consumption. “Man does not live by bread alone”, particularly when one part of the human population consumes resources at the price of global warming and ecological disaster and to the detriment of their brothers and sisters in the so called “Third World”. 

Our society is often spoken of as living in a cultural, social and political desert. This is sometimes illustrated dramatically in violent demonstrations when dialogue breaks down. But social unrest is caused by both poverty and deprivation erupts when violence seems to be the only language listened to. In a cultural desert, the mind begins to burrow deep within itself – just as in an actual desert a human body seeks shelter among the rocks. What a pity the art galleries, concert halls, music venues and even sports facilities are closed – although for understandable reasons. These are places where “Mens Sana in Corpore Sano” are celebrated. A healthy mind in a healthy body. 

Thank God, in every sense of those two words, that our churches are now allowed to be open for private prayer and public worship, albeit with severely limiting restrictions. Writing in “The Spectator” recently, Jonathan Beswick described an encounter he would never forget. “As I was walking down the lane outside a church, a neighbour called Steve stopped me and asked whether or not it was true that we had been closed down for public Masses. I replied that it was indeed true. Steve, with the characteristic frankness you would expect of a man who had played several times for Millwall in the 1960’s shook his head sadly and said ‘Either it matters, or it don’t”. 

It is evident that our churches are oases of prayer, peace and contemplation, even when there are no services being held. 

The sacred space, the tranquillity, the devotional atmosphere, the signs and symbols surrounding us within them, are gateways to the transcendent. Secular society might describe them as no more than places which are conducive to good mental health. The poet T.S. Eliot uses different words: 

You are not here to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity Or carry report.
You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid. 

The writer and broadcaster Will Self, who describes himself as a non-believer whilst still visiting churches, reflects on secular and aesthetic humanism in a telling way: 

“Like the Christianity which it has usurped, aesthetic humanism has a Trinity – albeit one in which paternity is inverted. It is Man who us now the father, and the old Roman goddess Fortuna whom we have made into our own image and likeness. As for the Holy Ghost, what could be more immanent – and yet transcendent- than the internet which is everywhere and nowhere at once, transmitting our divine creative spark?” 

LENT 

My heart is ready,Yes! My heart is ready! Like a desert I am parched. My soul of sand Soaks up the rain at once is dry again ,and
The inner fount of life is rank and deadly.
In such abysmal straits, remind the self
That we are loved, for all our self despair; That Jesus Christ has sought us out, that care Will open up the inner streams of health. God’s love is real and God’s affection never spent. So, be watered, tended; be refreshed this Lent. (Archdeacon Harold McDonald 2006) 

The Archdiocese of Cardiff and the Dioceses of Menevia and Wrexham welcome the announcement by the First Minister that churches may be opened for private prayer from Monday 22 June 2020. In the interests of your continued safety, given the measures that will need to be put in place in the coming days, it seems that Saturday 28 June will be the likely date for those churches who fulfil the health and safety requirements may be opened for a specific time to be announced. With the re-opening of churches, certain responsibilities are laid on both the parish and the diocese to ensure the health and safety of those who come to pray. Amongst these are the following:

  1. Each parish will need to decide the hours of opening and these times will be published on the diocesan website, once the Risk Assessment has been made and the Health and Safety certificate has been issued.

  2. Everyonevisitingthechurchwillberequiredtofollowthenecessaryguidelines and signage to ensure the safety of all.

  3. Eachparishwillneedtoprovidetwoorthreevolunteerstoensurethesafeflow and placement of people, seating, distance, cleaning, signage, stewards.

PLEASE NOTE:

a. The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday remains dispensed.

b. Social distancing must be observed
(currently two metres – except for household groups).

c. Each person must sanitise their hands on entering and leaving the church.

d. Should a person feel unwell or has been to an infected place in the past 14 days he or she should not enter the church.

e. The numbers entering the church will be restricted – depending on the seating available. One-way entry and exit paths will need to be established.

f. Churches must be cleaned every day prior to opening, and portions cleaned during the time it is open. Special attention must be paid to pews and door handles. Where possible, windows should be open. Air circulation helps reduce infection.

g. Hymn books, prayer books, pamphlets and leaflets should be removed.

h. Those who are “shielding” or self-isolating must remain at home and not come to the church for private prayer.

i. Some of our churches will be unable to fulfil these requirements through being too small, or not being able to recruit the necessary volunteer stewards or cleaners. Hopefully, the main church in each deanery will be able to welcome visitors from elsewhere.

j. Face coverings may be worn but are not strictly necessary. Their use is voluntary and not disrespectful to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament or the sacred space which is the church.

k. Parents and guardians bringing children to the church should be mindful to care for them particularly by ensuring they touch as few surfaces as possible for their own safety.

“I rejoiced when I heard them say “Let us go to God’s house, and now our feet are standing within your gates O Jerusalem”. (Psalm 121:1-2))

Letter to Priests (11th May 2020)

Dear Brothers,

You will already have received a copy of the message from the Metropolitan Archbishops of England and Wales on the current situation with regard to the closure of churches. This has also been posted on the Menevia website. It would be good to circulate and publicise this message in whatever ways possible to you and your parishioners.

There are occasional insistent demands that churches should be open in order that people might visit them for private prayer. Despite criticism from certain quarters at the lack of action of the bishops in not persuading the government that this should be allowed, there is a great deal of work being undertaken ‘through the usual channels’ with government and health officials. The purpose of this is that some relaxation in the lockdown legislation should be afforded to churches.

If and when this happens, the health and hygiene regulations with which we have become familiar will need to be implemented as rigorously as in other buildings. Social distancing, numbers allowed into the church at any one time, handwashing and sanitising, some measure of barrier clothing. No Holy Water. The need for volunteers. Every parish priest could add to that list I am sure.

Nonetheless, the diocese is in contact with www.churchmarketplace.org.uk with which many parishes already have accounts. The diocese is currently sourcing Hand Sanitiser and large Alcohol Wipes for use in the curial offices. Hopefully, this can be expanded to allow for some degree of accessibility to our churches at the appropriate time with the appropriate measures in place.

We all know of the many additional pressures which families are experiencing as a result of the current pandemic. One of these is child poverty. The number of children who are undernourished is frightening and a challenge to us all. The Archdiocese of Cardiff is engaging in a Food vouchers scheme which can be redeemed through certain supermarkets. Using money from the Poor Parishes Fund, these vouchers will be sent to parish priests shortly for distribution to whichever families you know who are struggling at this difficult time. Perhaps it might be possible for the Diocese of Menevia might do the same? Were it established, people would be generous with donations I am sure. And the Poor Box of parishes as well as funds from St. Anthony’s Bread might be used also. I am open to suggestions on how such a scheme might be implemented. No doubt the scheme will need to be administered and refined. At this stage, however, if you would email me at the above address indicating your desire to participate in this scheme and the number of vouchers you would like to receive in the first instance.

Congratulations and thanks to those parishes which have undertaken the Live Streaming of Mass and other devotions during the lockdown. I receive on a regular basis emails and letters expressing the gratitude of our people for the efforts being made to ensure that although we are physically separated, we are spiritually united. I have been Live Streamed myself from a number of churches on different Sundays and know something of the care which is being put into this new form of outreach. The number of viewers is a phenomenon in its own right and is surely teaching us lessons for the future.

This letter is longer and more business-like than I had intended. I hope you will find it helpful in dealing with any enquiries you may be having. Needless to say, I hope you are all keeping as well as can be expected during these difficult times. I pay particular tribute to our hospital chaplains and those priests who have had to conduct funerals in the most difficult of circumstances. I have to conduct the funeral of a friend of mine next week in similar circumstances.

With Easter Blessings.

+George Stack

Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Menevia & Metropolitan Archbishop of Cardiff

PASTORAL LETTER 

FROM ARCHBISHOP GEORGE STACK

19 MARCH 2020 – THE FEAST OF ST. JOSEPH

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

We are living in strange and worrying times. Who would have thought that, following the natural disasters of recent months, we would now be facing the dangerous realities surrounding the coronavirus pandemic? Yet this is the new reality with which we have to live. We have to adjust our everyday patterns and lifestyle to these very challenging circumstances. I want to write personally to each person in the Diocese of Menevia as we face these difficulties together, and in support of others in our local community.

Good health is a precious gift. The advance of medical science and the development of our National Health Service over the years have ensured that the quality of our lives has rightly improved.  “Life is precious. Handle with Prayer” read a Wayside Pulpit some years ago. These words seem particularly relevant during the health crisis we now face. I have attached two prayers which you may find helpful to use personally whether self-isolating or trying to go about the daily business of life.

Prayer and good works are the hallmark of the follower of Jesus Christ. We do pray for all those who have been infected by the virus, especially those with underlying health conditions which make them even more prone to serious illness. As good citizens, it is essential that we heed government and medical advice, whether it be self- isolating or not gathering in big numbers in addition to undertaking the basic hygiene instructions. Working from home where possible, avoiding non-essential travel, limiting social outings. All of these measures have their place in helping to avoid infection as well as the danger of cross contamination. They may also contribute to our Lenten discipline. The 8.8 million people in this country over the age of 70 must obviously have our special care as we are particularly vulnerable in this pandemic. A significant proportion of our clergy also fit into this category. In the Church, we have a good network of outreach to the elderly, sick and housebound. At this time, the good neighbour will ensure that those living alone should be contacted and reassured that help is near at hand, should it be needed.

Bearing in mind what I have written, you will know that the Bishops of England and Wales have implemented the decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass in our churches on Sundays and Holy Days. This decision includes a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass because of the danger of these times.

This cessation includes weekday Mass as well, although the priest may celebrate Mass privately without a congregation. Our churches will remain open wherever possible in order that people may use them for private prayer and devotions. The essence of these measures is that people must not gather in groups with all the dangers of cross infection this entails.

This decision has not been taken lightly, recognising that the Mass is the hallmark of Catholic faith and practice. A number of churches have the capacity to ‘live stream’ the celebration of Mass in the absence of a congregation. It would be good to view these transmissions and join in the prayers with missals, the scriptures and other worship aids. Failing that, traditional Catholic practices such as the Prayer of the Church, Lectio Divina, the Rosary, Stations of the Cross and the desire to make a spiritual communion.

These actions will join us together as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. We may be physically more separated at this time, but we remain united through faith and baptism in bonds which cannot be broken. No one is forgotten in the prayers of the Church.

I want to assure the priests and people of the Diocese of my prayers for you and your loved ones, and for your parish community. I am grateful to those who have worked hard to provide information and help not least through the Archdiocese website, social media and “The Catholic People” .These days of Lent are a time of testing as we follow our suffering Lord Jesus to Calvary and beyond. The suffering of the cross to which we attach ourselves cannot be avoided in the painful circumstances of our lives. These are not of our choosing. The cross cannot be avoided. It has to be embraced in faith and lived through in order to catch a glimpse of what lies beyond. Although our celebration of this Easter may have to be more muted than in past years, the truth it celebrates will never diminish. “Life and death contended. Combat strangely ended”.  Our belief is that life will triumph over death. That light will conquer darkness. The words of St. John Paul II are profoundly significant at this time:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song”.

With every blessing

+ George Stack

Apostolic Administrator, Diocese of Menevia

 

STATEMENT FROM THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF ENGLAND AND WALES

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, so many aspects of our lives must change. This includes the ways in which we publicly express our faith. It is very clear that, following official advice and in order to keep each other safe, save lives and support the NHS, at this time we must not gather for public acts of worship in our churches. This will begin from Friday evening, 20h March 2020, until further notice.

Our churches will remain open. They are not closing. They will be a focal point of prayer, where you will find solace and strength. In visiting our churches at this time, we will observe with great care the practices of hygiene and the guidance on social distancing.

However, the celebration of Mass, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, will take place without a public congregation.

Knowing that the Mass is being celebrated; joining in spiritually in that celebration; watching the live-streaming of the Mass; following its prayers at home; making an act of spiritual communion: this is how we share in the Sacrifice of Christ in these days. These are the ways in which we will sanctify Sunday, and indeed every day.

We want everyone to understand that in these emergency circumstances, and for as long as they last, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is removed. This is, without doubt, the teaching of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2181). This pandemic is the ‘serious reason’ why this obligation does not apply at this time.

You will find more details about the pathway of prayer and sacramental life we are now to take in the accompanying document and on the Bishops’ Conference website (www.cbcew.org.uk). Your own bishop and parish priest will provide further support, encouragement and information about our way of prayer together in the coming weeks.

The second vital aspect of these challenging times is our care for each other. There are so many ways in which we are to do this: being attentive to the needs of our neighbour, especially the elderly and vulnerable; contributing to our local food banks; volunteering for charitable initiatives and organisations; simply keeping in touch by all the means open to us.

During these disturbing and threatening times, the rhythm of the prayer of the Church will continue. Please play your part in it. The effort of daily kindness and mutual support for all will continue and increase. Please play your part in this too. For your commitment to this, we thank you.

“The Lord is my shepherd,
There is nothing I shall want.”

May God bless us all.

Vincent Cardinal Nichols
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP
Vice-President

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