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Given on 18th June at Westminster Cathedral for the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop James Curry.

Today is a day of rejoicing as our Diocese, the Church of Westminster, receives the gift of a bishop to serve in our midst and strengthen our life of faithful service.

This is a diocese of rich history and traditions. See, in our midst, the precious body of St John Southworth who ministered in the streets of this city four hundred years ago. He persevered in his ministry in times of great difficulty. He was arrested and imprisoned on five different occasions. And, finally, on 28 June 1654, he was put to death simply for being a priest. Today we try to follow in his footsteps of service, here in these same streets.

And over there, on my left, lies the body of Bishop Richard Challoner, ordained a bishop in 1741. He too served in this city, dedicating himself to the service of the poor and to the work of education. He also lived in turbulent times when Catholics were harassed and threatened. Much of his ministry was carried out in a hidden manner. The easing of the law in the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, initially gave rise to an anti-Catholic backlash and violent riots here in London. Bishop Challoner had to escape, to the safety of Finchley!

Now, from the high streets not of Finchley but of Kensington, comes another to be a bishop in this line of succession. Today we rejoice in the episcopal ordination of Mgr James Curry and I welcome all of you who have come to support him and pray for him.

The good Pope St John XXIII, in his Journal of the Soul, recalls his thoughts in preparation for his episcopal ordination. He wrote: 

‘The Lord has chosen me, making it so clear that it is his will that it would be a grave sin for me to refuse. So it will be for him to cover up my failings and supply my insufficiencies. This comforts me and gives me tranquillity and confidence.’

These words, Jim, are surely a comfort for you, as they are for me, as you enter this new ministry.

There are words we will hear shortly that express most clearly what this ministry really is. They are the words of the solemn act of ordination:

‘Now pour forth upon this chosen one the power that is from you,
The governing Spirit, whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ,
And whom he gave to the holy Apostles,
Who established the Church in each place as your sanctuary
To the glory and unfailing praise of your name.’

Yes, this is our project: to be so formed by Christ, by the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, that we can make of every place and of every time ‘a sanctuary to the glory and unfailing praise of your name’.

And in this project, which is our key mission, the role of the bishop is clear. He is given a ‘governing spirit’.

This corresponds, of course, to the word ‘episcope’, which means oversight. Yes, the bishop is the one who is to watch over us. Indeed, enclosed within the word ‘episcope’ is the word ‘scopus’ which actually means watchman. The bishop then, is the one sent to see, encourage, guide, correct. But he must do so in the same manner in which our Heavenly Father watches over us, with eyes first trained on our need for compassion, understanding and forgiveness. This, I believe, is the governing spirit for which we pray for our new bishop today.

This aspect of episcopal ministry can only be fulfilled when the bishop is truly attentive to those over whom he watches, accompanying them step by step. The routine of the bishop, then, of visiting parishes and deaneries, schools, hospitals and prisons, is important. 

Episcopal attentiveness also has to focus on the distinctiveness, the peculiarities of each time and place, for Kensington is not Kingsbury and Hounslow is not Harefield. What might be effective in one may not be so in another. This too is part of the richness of our Diocesan church, a richness which is not unfamiliar to our new bishop and which will call for his discernment.

During this celebration, we will invoke the prayers of the saints - and plenty of them! We have heard again the challenging question put to us by Jesus: ‘Do you love me?’ We have been reassured that the course of the life of each one of us has been in the mind of God before even we were conceived in the womb of our mother. We have been instructed on how the different talents and services we each can offer are held together only through the one and same Spirit, the Spirit given in Jesus whose Body we are.

With these assurances we can, with our new bishop, answer the challenging question of the Lord with a strong response: ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!’ Then we are ready to hear his call: ‘Feed my sheep!’ 

In fulfilling this commission, the challenge we face is different to that of St John Southworth or Bishop Richard Challoner. Our challenge, I suggest, is to find the right words and actions to speak to the hearts of so many in our society whose only preoccupation is with the troubling realities of each day, who have lost a ready openness to the presence and reality of God, and who have only the most tentative understanding of the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus, with his gifts of compassion, forgiveness and hope. ‘Feed my sheep’. This means giving credible expression in our daily living to the realities of faith and life revealed by our Blessed Lord. Then, step by step, we can realign all things to the praise and worship of God.

Now our new bishop, professing his love of the Lord, must give his response to the call he has received, making before us all the promises of episcopal ministry. As he does so, we promise him our love and our prayers.  Amen.

✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster