Reflection on the installation of Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent with brothers John and Peter

Archbishop Vincent with brothers John and Peter

I first met Vincent Nichols in Rome September 1980 when I was covering the Synod on Marriage and the Family. We were introduced outside the Pope VI Synod Hall by Cardinal Basil Hume and Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. Fr Basil, as we knew him, said: "This is Fr Vincent Nichols. He's here to help us. I think you'll like him".

Nearly 29 years later I felt extremely proud as I sat in Westminster Cathedral at his Reception and Installation as the Eleventh Archbishop of Westminster.

I have seven "magic moments" to share from that historic ceremony on Thursday 21 May 2009. The installation was a moving, prayerful and memorable occasion. The Votive Mass of Saint Paul the Apostle was full of ancient tradition and ritual some dating back to the earliest days of Christianity in Britain. But there were also delightful unscripted and unscheduled moments which will remain with me as never-to-be-repeated "magic moments".

I think first was the 'thumbs up' that Archbishop Vincent give to his brother John who was sitting in a wheelchair directly in front of the pulpit. Those of us seated near to John saw what actually happened, an intimate family moment between two brothers as the new Archbishop processed from the sanctuary at the end of the two-hour service.

The second special moment for me was when I picked up the service booklet and saw my picture of Archbishop Vincent Nichols on the inside of the front cover which showed Westminster's new man outside St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham. He was wearing the vestments and mitre of his great predecessor, Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne, the first Bishop of Birmingham.

My third "magic moment" was when Archbishop Vincent stepped up to the microphone in the pulpit to deliver his sermon. I caught his eye and waved.

The fourth moment was when Archbishop Nichols was handed the crozier, the sign of the Shepherd of the Flock, by his predecessor Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. Nine years earlier on 22 March 2000, it had been Bishop Nichols, then Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Westminster, who had handed Cardinal Basil Hume's crozier to Bishop Cormac during his Mass of Installation. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor is the first Archbishop of Westminster to live into retirement, and thus the first to hand over his crozier to a successor Archbishop.

My fifth "magic moment" was when Chris Nichols, the Archbishop's sister-in-law, and Jenny Davies, his personal secretary in Birmingham, read the first and second lessons. Chris and Peter Nichols had flown over from Australia to be with their brother for this ceremony.

My sixth "magic moment" was watching the new Archbishop of Westminster greet the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the now Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Archbishop Vincent had worked closely with Bishop John Sentamu and other faith leaders in Birmingham. As Anglican Bishop of Stepney, John Sentamu had attended Archbishop Vincent's installation in the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad Birmingham in March 2000. John Sentamu went on to become Anglican Bishop of Birmingham.

The final "magic moment" for me happened as Archbishop Vincent was processing from the sanctuary at the end of the service. Before making his way out into the warm afternoon sunshine to greet the crowds in the piazza, with simple solemnity, and completely off the schedule, he turned and entered the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine near the great West Door of Westminster Cathedral. There he paused for a few moments to kneel and pray before the tomb of his great friend and mentor Cardinal Basil Hume.

Cardinal Hume, died on 17 June 1999, aged 76. At the conclusion of the funeral in Westminster Cathedral on Friday 25 June that year of the man The Queen had dubbed "our cardinal", it had been Bishop Vincent Nichols who walked before Fr Basil's coffin and led it to its final resting place.

After that first introduction in Rome, I followed all the major milestones in Vincent Nichol's ecclesiastical career. He has always been affectionately referred to as "Vin". In January 1984, he was appointed general secretary of the Bishops' Conference in England & Wales.

Pope John Paul II appointed Mgr Vincent as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Westminster on 5 November 1991. At 46, he was at the time the youngest Catholic bishop in Great Britain. His Episcopal Ordination took place in Westminster Cathedral on 14 January 1992, the Feast of St Francis de Sales, Patron of Writers and Journalists.

He was given responsibility for North London. His patch included the old Wembley Stadium where supporters sang "Football's Coming Home" during Euro 1996. Today, Vincent Gerard Nichols, the lad from Liverpool, has come back to London as Archbishop of Westminster, now assuming the care of the whole diocese, and, as the freshly elected President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

May Westminster be his home for many years to come!
(Peter Jennings was Press Secretary to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, as Archbishop of Birmingham, 2000-09.)

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