Thanksgiving for Apostolic Nuncio

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Given at Mass of Thanksgiving for the Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Antonio Mennini, at Westminster Cathedral, on the Feast of St Paul Miki and his companions, 6th February 2017.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Paul Miki and his companions. They are among the larger group known as the Nagasaki Martyrs who died rather than deny their faith, in Japan, at the end of of the 16th century. Before dying a cruel death, manacled to a cross and pierced through with a great lance, they were paraded for days, suffering the insults and violence of the crowd, continually being offered the choice of apostasy rather than death. On this day, in 1597, twenty-six heroic Catholics were crucified together at a place which now is the Martyrs’ Monument.

Something of the drama of their lives, their suffering and their deaths has been conveyed to us in the film, 'Silence', telling a fictional story of Jesuit priests in Japan at the time of this terrible persecution. We can be sure that these actual martyrs must have also struggled with the silence of God, in a terrible inner torment. Today we honour them and praise God for their example.

Saint Pope John Paul II visited this Martyrs’ Monument in 1981. When there, he was deeply moved. He said these words:

'Today, I come to this place as a pilgrim to give thanks to God for the lives and the death of the Martyrs of Nagasaki - for the twenty-six and all the others that followed them - heroes of Christ's grace. I thank God for the lives of all those, wherever they may be, who suffer for their faith in God, for their allegiance to Christ the Saviour, for their fidelity to the Church. Every age - the past, the present and the future - produces, for the edification of all, shining examples of the power that is in Jesus Christ.

‘Today, I come to the Martyrs' Hill to bear witness to the primacy of love in the world. In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death. They embodied the essence of the Christian message, the spirit of the Beatitudes, so that all who look up to them may be inspired to let their lives be shaped by unselfish love of God and love of neighbour ...  May this monument speak to the world forever about that love!'

Love, we know, is our response to goodness. It may be goodness as perceived by the eye, but much more importantly by the heart and mind. Indeed, in every moment of prayer, as just now, we lift up our minds and hearts to God and in sensing God's goodness, seek to love him more.

The first reading, then, can increase our love for God. This reading from the Book of Genesis is a proclamation of the goodness of God shining forth in the creation. Three times in this reading we heard the words 'God saw that it was good!'. And in the full chapter the phrase is related six times, as the order and beauty of creation unfolds. Indeed, the final, sixth, repetition reads 'God saw all he had made and indeed it was very good!' (Genesis 1.31). Our response to that goodness is love: love of all that God has made, just as we love the Creator himself.

This evening we salute our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini. We thank him for his loving service of the Church in England and Wales, and indeed, in Scotland. We promise him our prayers and our continuing support as he moves to a task in Rome within the Secretariat of State itself.

You know, Your Excellency, that I once heard one of your predecessors say that the key task for every Nuncio was that of finding what was good in everyone they met and trying to engage on that basis. This, I believe, is a great quality that you have shown in your mission here. In the style of the Book of Genesis, you have looked first for what is good, here in our Church, in the people you have met, in the tasks you have had to undertake. You have not been blind to our failings - you are not at all without perception - but you have always, it seems to me, wanted to concentrate on the good. For this reason, I believe, we have come to recognise in you a true brother, a friend to whom we have offered our friendship in return.

In this stance and approach, you have also followed the mind of Pope Francis who, speaking to Apostolic Nuncios gathered in Rome, in 2013, said that 'In your relations with civil authorities and your colleagues, you are pastors: always seek what is good, the good of all, the good of the Church, and the good of each person.'

So this evening I know that I am not alone in thanking you. I speak, too, on behalf of so many of your colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps, many of whom are present here with us. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your presence and I thank you for the honour you give to Archbishop Mennini by being here this evening.

The Gospel we have heard this evening speaks of the unending tasks of the pastor, of anyone who seeks to reflect and serve the living presence of Christ in the world. The crowds that gathered ‘round Jesus represent us all, marked by anxiety and fear, burdened often with sickness or doubt, striving to keep our eyes on what we know to be good and reliable in the midst of unsettling change. We come to him, knowing that in his word and in his deeds, made present for us in this Mass, we can again draw strength and courage for our lives. 

Your Excellency, as you prepare for your departure from the United Kingdom, please take with you our promise of prayers and a strong sense that as you and we come each day to our celebration of Holy Mass, we will continue to be closely with you and support you in the new ministry that lies before you. 

Thank you, dear Antonio. Thank you, dear Archbishop.