Tag Archives: Pope Paul VI

A Saint Remembered

It has become a recent custom at Westminster Cathedral that in marking the feast day of St John Southworth, the feretory containing the relics of our saint is moved from its usual resting place in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs into the nave of the Cathedral where visitors and worshippers may pray and light candles around the relics.

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Father John Southworth was born into a family of Catholics in Lancashire in 1592. His family had been subject to persecution including having to pay heavy fines for not renouncing their faith. John Southworth’s father had himself been imprisoned for harbouring the Jesuit martyr-priest, Father Edmund Campion. Despite those times being very dangerous for Catholics in England and Wales, John Southworth travelled to Douai in France to study for his vocation which would conclude with his own martyrdom.

Following his ordination, Father John returned to England in 1619 and for most of the next 35 years carried out his pastoral duties and was arrested on no less than four occasions. Much of John Southworth’s work was in Westminster which in the middle ages was an area noted for its crime and abject poverty. Despite the reputation of the area and in the face of constant mortal danger, John Southworth  served the poor, the ill and the needy in Westminster and Clerkenwell . During the years of the plague, at great personal risk he worked among the infirmed and dying and raised funds for the families of victims.

While John Southworth was released on three occasions of his arrest as a result of the intervention of Henrietta Maria, the French Catholic wife of King Charles 1, he was again detained in 1654. Refusing to renounce his faith and saying instead,

“My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ’s law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict… ”

John Southworth was condemned to death at Tyburn despite the pleas of many including those of several foreign ambassadors.

His remains were sent to Douai for burial and then transferred to and hidden in an unmarked grave during the French Revolution. They were discovered in 1927 and returned to England. When he was beatified in 1929, John Southworth’s relics were enshrined at Westminster Cathedral. On October 25 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised John Southworth in company with the other martyrs of England and Wales.

Today, The St John Southworth Fund in carrying on the spirit of it’s patron saint, supports the work of parishes and organisations on a wide range of issues including poverty, old age, infirmity, disability and deprivation in the dioceses of Westminster, Brentwood and Southwark and in the county of Hertfordshire.


On Conscience and Conformity

Oswald von  Nell-Breuning was furious.

The rage of the then 90-year old former architect of the papal encyclical of Pope Pius Xl written in 1931 was amply and not without a touch of humour, demonstrated to the assembled audience by Fr Patrick Riordan.

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In 1931 Pope Pius discussed the ethical implications of the social and economic order and described the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism and totalitarianism under the communist regimes, calling with urgency for the reconstruction of a social order based on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Von Nell-Bruening thus raged at relative lack of progress made by politicians of whom he was critical for having failed not only in their duty to inform society or persuade us with reasoned argument but instead choose to ignore our reasoned argument while placating us with sound bytes, as it were.

Fr Riordan went on the explore the relationship between faith and politics, returning to the Catholic position of a long-held belief of separation of church and state. If the concept of separation did truly exist, would faith then be subservient to politics? In respect of this, the question for Christians is what our faith requires of us in relation to politics. How should we react when faced with choices?

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In developing the discussion, Fr Riordan drew on various writings by the leaders of the church, not least Mit Brennender Sorgean encyclical of Pope Pius XI which was published in 1937. Smuggled into Germany and read out at mass on Palm Sunday, it was highly critical of Nazism and the manner by which it elevated one race above others and raised the notions of their perceived values to an idolatrous level, concluding that in the face of spiritual loss, the only alternative available was that of heroism. Pope Pius’s call to Christian witness was clearly answered by the Austrian Franz Jägerstätter who in turn refused the call-up into the Austrian army referring to the war and the conduct of it as unjust.

More recently Pope John Paul II writing with respect of the collapse of the Soviet Union, cited the events of 1989 as a warning to those who would see political realism as outweighing law and morality in the political arena. He spoke as events would show, of the success of the gospel spirit  over an adversary determined not to be bound by moral principles. Pope John Paul II spoke of intrinsic evils, calling on us to stand up against them, not unlike a call to heroism as suggested by Pope Pius Xl and heeded by Franz Jaggerstatter and his wife, Franziska both of whom were persecuted for their beliefs.

In conclusion Fr Riordan investigated the role of evangelisation today and in reflecting on Pope Paul VI’s writings on the subject, looked to the challenges faced by Christians as they  question the norms of  conformity urged by the changing values and judgment of an increasingly secular and at times, unjust world when these are in contrast to the Word of God. Being true to the faith does also mean that we are not like sheep.

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I have to confess that writing the blog on this lecture took me far longer than usual. It would indeed have taken even longer without the advantage of watching the splendid video of the lecture produced by the Communications Office of the Diocese of Westminster and the Agency for Evangelisation at Vaughan House which was the venue for these lectures.

Images from the lecture