It's not easy being a Catholic on Tristan da Cunha, the world's most remote inhabited island situated in the mid South Atlantic, five days by ship from Cape Town. Older readers will remember that all the islanders were evacuated to Britain following a volcanic eruption in October 1961. Sadly, there is no resident priest to look after the spiritual needs of about 30 Catholics on this United Kingdom Overseas Territory. Mgr Michael McPartland, the Prefect Apostolic, is based in the Falklands. He visited Tristan for the first time last autumn. He celebrated Mass, heard confessions, and also officiated at First Communions and Confirmations. He plans to make another visit this autumn. In the meantime, St Joseph's Catholic church is run by lay ministers, Mrs Anne Green, the Chief Islander, James Glass, the former Chief Islander, and Derek Rogers. The present church built during the mid 1990's (to replace a smaller church on the same site built in 1983) is situated in the heart of the only settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. I was privileged to read at Mass on Sunday 5 February during my memorable seven-day visit to the island, where I attended historic events to mark the 500th anniversary of its discovery in 1506. All the prayers and readings of the Mass are said except for the prayers of the Consecration, when the ciborium containing consecrated hosts is taken out of the tabernacle and placed on the altar. Bishop Tom Burns of the Forces, who is Apostolic Visitor of Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension and the Falklands, sent a special Pastoral Letter with me. I was invited to read it in place of a sermon. Bishop Burns wrote: "I offer you all my sincerest congratulations on this significant occasion in your long history. What celebrations you will have. If only the stones could add their untold tales to what has been told before. As a people, as a community, and as a Church, you have achieved much and welcomed many a visitor with warmth and appreciation. "As Apostolic Visitor to the Islands, I look forward to the day when I may come among you. May the Lord be with you, your families and your loved ones. May he keep you safe and hold you in his hand this day and always. Pray for us as we will always pray for you, and in sharing our faith and friendship, please accept my very best wishes." Mrs Green, the Chief Islander, read a special letter, addressed to her, that I brought with me from Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham. He wrote: "This message is being brought to you by Mr Peter Jennings. His visit to your island gives me this opportunity to express to you, and to all the people of the island, my very best wishes and assurances of my prayers. "I would like to take this moment to send by special greetings to the Catholic community of the island. Even though we are separated by many thousands of miles, the bonds of faith and communion within the Catholic Church are strong and I know that I can count on the prayers of you all, just as I willingly assure you of my prayers for you. May God bless you and all the people at this historic moment." Please remember the Catholics on Tristan da Cunha in your prayers as they continue to pray for a resident Catholic priest. Who knows, perhaps a priest reading this piece will agree to serve on the island for a few months? He would be greatly appreciated and, like me, would receive a wonderful welcome.
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