Given at the Mass inaugurating the diocesan Shrine of the Rosary at St Dominic's Church, Haverstock Hill, on the Feast of Pope St John Paul II, 22 October 2016.
In the 1960s, a Jesuit priest came regularly to the English College in Rome to speak with the young seminarians, among whom I was one. He gave many spiritual conferences, but I can remember clearly only one of them.
On that memorable evening, he spoke to us about ways of prayer which we needed to develop. He spoke about the eastern traditions of contemplative prayer from which we could learn: ways of being centred in prayer, ways of establishing a rhythm of prayer, ways of learning from repetitive prayer, such as the 'Jesus prayer'. This was attractive to us; it sounded different.
Then he went on to speak about our need to practice Lectio Divina, that slow and deliberate meditation on the key events of Our Lord's life as presented in the Gospels. That too was to be part of our prayer.
It was only when he got to 7.55pm and supper was soon to begin that he said: 'You understand, of course, that I am speaking about the Rosary.'
It is a great joy for me today to establish this church, this Dominican church as our Shrine of Our Blessed Lady of the Rosary. It is to stand alongside the historic shrine of Our Lady of Willesden and it marks the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order. I offer my sincere thanks to all who have prepared for today, Fr Prior, the Dominican community and, of course, all the parishioners of St Dominic's.
Today is also the Feast of Pope St John Paul II. His love for the Rosary was obvious. So often he was photographed with a Rosary in his hand. His devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is also well known, seen so clearly at the time of his being shot in St Peter's Square. He established the additional mysteries of the Rosary, the Mysteries of Light, although when he did so I cannot imagine he realised that it would mean building an extension to this church of the Holy Rosary!
We have heard some beautiful readings of Sacred Scripture this morning. Zechariah expresses so compellingly the promise of the Lord to dwell 'in the middle of you'. This promise is fulfilled, in the words of St John, when 'the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us'. Now nothing is beyond the embrace of God, nothing in our human experience is beyond his mercy, beyond his tender caress.
This is so hard to grasp. Yet it is powerfully asserted by St Paul when he said these words: 'We know that by turning everything to their good God cooperates with all those who love him.' Turning everything to our good. How can that be! Everything?
This is hard to take in when we consider all the personal sadness, tragedies, losses and betrayals that mark our lives. Can all this be turned to our good? Think, too, of the astonishing evil and cruelty in our world. This is difficult to understand. Yet we are to aspire to do so.
If this is to happen then we have to take up our station with Mary, who stands there at the foot of the cross. Only there do we have any chance of beginning to understand. Think of the great prayer, the Stabat Mater, in which we ask for a share in her suffering and in the suffering of her Son. That is the only way to understand.
Some years ago now, returning home from a holiday, I was driving through Munich. We saw a signpost, indicating the way to the concentration camp of Dachau. We decided to go.
It was a deeply moving and distressing experience. There I understood the meaning of the word 'concentration'. The camp was quite small, for the numbers of people incarcerated in it. Everything was concentrated, including the horror. We saw some reconstructed huts in which the people were confined. We saw the torture and execution yards. I walked the length of the site, shocked and dismayed.
At the far end of the camp there was a small chapel. I went in and knelt down. I could not speak. I was utterly struck dumb. Slowly words of a possible prayer came into my mind. It was the Rosary. It was the only prayer that I could possible say.
The Rosary is the prayer for us in our darkest hour. This we know. We say the Rosary when we awake at 3.00 am full of anxiety. We say the Rosary at the bedside of the dying, with those who are sick, when we are at our wits’ end. The Rosary slowly releases its power to calm us, to open our hearts, to allow God's mercy in. It is a most precious prayer.
I hope and pray that this church, established as our Shrine of Our Blessed Lady of the Rosary, will help us all to come closer to the Lord and let the saving mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, find a throne in our hearts. I pray that the rhythm of the Rosary will become the rhythm of our lives, a powerful beat indeed.
In our Gospel reading today we heard of Mary travelling across the Judean countryside, carrying in her womb the very Light of Life. May that be our image today. As we crisscross this great city, moving through every place, especially the valleys of darkness, may we also carry within ourselves that Light of Christ, bringing him to others, allowing his warmth to radiate from us and his mercy reach out. May this be the fruit of this Shrine, the fruit which Mary carried, to which she gave her flesh and which she will surely give to us today.