Bishop Crispian Hollis preached the following homily yesterday at special Mass at St John's Cathedral, Portsmouth, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Pope John Paul II and the beatification of Mother Teresa. the celebration was also a welcome back to Bishop Crispian who has been on a three month Sabbatical. Last Thursday Bishop Crispian had a private interview with the Pope. There's a section in St Luke's Gospel which carries the headline 'the hardships of the apostolic calling'. and, among other things, the Lord says there that 'foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' That can sometimes seem true for all of us who are called into specific ministry in the Church and it can be hard. Increasingly for me, it is ceasing to be the case. As you know, I have been away for three months but throughout that time, the support and encouragement of so many of you who have remained 'at home' has sustained me. So much so, that almost from the beginning of my break, I have looked forward to coming 'home' and I am delighted to be 'at home' with you today and able to celebrate with you all. Thank you for making the necessary break possible but thank you too for welcoming me back so warmly. We belong to one another in the one family of the diocese and that,s something I really treasure. I return to you this weekend from a very special visit to Rome. It has been a blessed coincidence that our Ad Limina visit this year took place alongside the celebration of Pope John Paul II's Silver Jubilee and the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The celebrations attendant on the creation of 30 new Cardinals were almost a sideshow. The highlight of any Ad Limina visit is the opportunity that the bishop has to sit down for a one-to-one conversation with the Holy Father. In view of his obvious weakness and infirmity, we offered to forego this privilege but he insisted that, despite the huge pressure on his time and energy, he wanted to meet us all individually. In the end, it was understandably a very brief encounter but it was personal and I was able to tell the Holy Father of your love and concern for him. I told him of your prayers and of our celebration today, and, very briefly, I spoke a little of what we are trying to do in the diocese. I thanked him for his support and encouragement and, in particular, for his courageous leadership and teaching. In return, he simply said 'thank you very much - give the people of Portsmouth my blessing' which I do with all my heart. The seeking for the face of Christ has been at the heart of much of what he has written in recent years and months and that makes our Gospel today most appropriate. To be blind and to be given sight must be the most extraordinary experience. To be able to see again and for our first sight to be of the loving face of Christ must be truly transforming and transfiguring. It comes as no surprise that the healed man followed Jesus, rejoicing and praising God. Jesus, the healer, restores the sight of the blind, and through the faithful living and preaching of the Gospel, that healing endures to this day, enshrined in the courageous witness and proclamation of the disciples of Christ. Our times have been particularly blessed by the witness and life of two remarkable people, famous the world over. John Paul II the priest, the professor, world statesman and Pope and Mother Teresa of Calcutta born ten years earlier in the obscurity of an Albanian village, but destined to be come a household name world-wide, the poorest of the servants of Christ serving the poor of the world. Together and yet so differently they have been giants of faith in our time. Both have been fearless; both have thrown open wide the doors of their lives to Christ; both have consistently sought to put out into the deep waters of the love of God and the Gospel of Christ. They have loved the Lord and have constantly sought his face. Pope John Paul does so in his ministry of leadership and teaching and in his total commitment to Christ. Mother Teresa was driven to do so many beautiful things for God because she saw the face of Christ in everyone and was thus able to minister to the poverty and suffering of the body of Christ. In his younger days, Pope John Paul was tall and vigorous and athletic - yet now he cannot rise unassisted from his chair and that strong, resounding voice - 'once heard and never forgotten' is slowly being reduced to silence and to the silence of prayer. But, even in his suffering and weakness, he still confirms his brothers and sisters in faith as the Lord commanded his predecessor Peter. Mother Teresa was always a diminutive figure but never insignificant. She became the conscience of the world's nations and statesmen as she championed the poorest of the poor and their dignity and rights. She feared no one and refused ever to take 'no' for an answer. For both these great apostles, the face of Christ is what draws them, entrances them and inspires them to be great among the servants of the servants of God. It is good that we celebrate them and their work today but, most of all, we gather to give thanks to God for the marvels that he works for us in his servants. We are enabled through the life and witness of two remarkable followers of Christ to 'proclaim, praise and shout that the Lord has saved and continues to save - his people.' We pray for Pope John Paul as he undoubtedly nears the end of his days among us and we ask Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to join us in this prayer of the Church. But we ask her to obtain for us the grace of continuing commitment of faith to the poor, the unloved, the homeless and the little people of the world who have no one to speak for them.
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