Birmingham: Archbishop Nichols at launch of OMI Mission

 During his homily at the Inauguration of the OMI (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate) Mission at St Michael's, Moor Street, in central Birmingham today, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, said: 'Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.' 'These words sound the keynote of our celebration of Mass today. The celebration, like every Mass, is an invitation, given by the Lord, in which we encourage one another. We are to walk in His light; rejoice in His light and seek to let that light be seen and known. And that light is Jesus, the one who is 'The light of the world.' 'Today I rejoice in the inauguration of a new venture here in the centre of Birmingham. I recall Mgr Dan Lennard and all the work he did here, I thank Fr Peter Jones. The Polish Community and their use of St Michael's are also part of the richness of this Church. But today I welcome most warmly Fr John Staak, Fr Leo Philomin, Fr Ken Thorson, and Bro Noel Garcia. I welcome them to their new mission, for which I know they have prepared thoroughly. 'It is good to have the presence of the OMI's (founded in France during 1816 by Saint Eugene De Mazenod) here in St Michael's. In coming here these priests are part of a long OMI tradition, going back to 1849 when the Order established its first English Noviciate at Maryvale, having already taken on missions here in the Midlands. St Anne's, too, which these priests will serve, has such strong connections with Maryvale and with Cardinal Newman who moved from there to Alcester Street before going on to the Hagley Road in Edgbaston. 'Catholic missionary work in the centre of Birmingham has a long history, and a colourful one, too. By 1687 the Franciscans had already been working as travelling missioners for 30 years when, in that year, they decided to build a Catholic Church. That was a risky thing to do at that time. Yet they were encouraged by a contribution of a large amount of timber for the work from King James II himself. So a Church was built, nearby here in what became known as Masshouse Lane. But it stood only for a few months before being utterly destroyed, right down to its foundations by an intolerant mob, which encouragement from higher up! 'But it was not just Catholics who were the target of such intolerance. In 1791 another mob destroyed the Unitarian meetinghouse which stood on this very site. Indeed this church is the successor to that early building. 'The minister of that Unitarian community was Joseph Priestly, one of Birmingham's most eminent scientists and scholars. Along with Matthew Boulton, and his great friend Joseph Berington, a Catholic missioner from Old Oscott, they were members of the famous Lunar Society, which did so much to shape modern day Birmingham. 'Perhaps it was that experience of intolerance that laid the foundations for the fine tradition of this city of welcoming people from every corner of the world and insisting on a tolerant way of life. Certainly that is one of the features of which Birmingham is proud today. And this ability to welcome people is at the heart of the city's prosperity. 'Nowhere is that welcome seen more clearly than here in the shopping centre of the city. Many thousands of people come here, week by week, to admire the new Bull Ring and to do their shopping. Here it is easy to sense the openness and the vitality of the city, and indeed of the region. This is a focus of the pride of Birmingham. 'Here, today, we set out on a new initiative. What exactly are we seeking to do: members of the OMI's, with the full support of their Order, the Archdiocese and you, the faithful people of God. Very simply, we wish to bring the light of the Good News, the light of Christ, to bear on this fine city. 'This city centre is a busy, bustling place. This mission, here in St Michael's, along with St Martin's (Anglican church in the nearby Bull Ring) can offer a space at its heart. How much we long for a bit of quiet space, a place in which to recover ourselves. Yes we do. Yet this space is not simply an empty space. Rather it is the space of a rich presence, soothing, recreating presence: the presence of God, the presence of the Lord. He is here, in the Blessed Sacrament, always waiting those who come to Him. 'As well as being a busy place, this city centre can be very tiring, too. Shopping bags quickly become heavy. Soon we recognise our need to company and encouragement: not just on our shopping trips but in life itself. So the task of this mission is to find ways of accompanying the people of this city centre on their many and varied paths, so that, at the right moment, that word of invitation can be given. This mission, then, is to be a listening post in the heart of the city. Here we hope to listen to the anxieties, the weariness of many, as well as to their joys and delights. 'Mission, this mission, is always an enterprise, which needs imagination and boldness. There are modern pathways to explore, and modern attitudes to address. This new venture will, I'm sure, take us into new fields. 'A Mission, too is always a joint venture. Just as those early Franciscans depended on the support of the people of their day, so too these new missioners will need ours. 'In the words of the Gospel, today we renew our consecration to the truth. The truth is Christ. When we are close to him then we know full well that we can go out into our world with our message of hope for all. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. So we new ask the Lord to keep us close to him, and we open our hearts to make them his own. We pray especially for these four missioners and ask God s blessing upon them in this new enterprise.' Among the 14 priests who concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Vincent Nichols were: Fr Tom Murphy, OMI Oblate Provincial for England & Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Brazil, and Fr Ronald Rolheiser, Oblate General Council Representative from Rome.

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