Given at the Mass of welcome for the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, at Westminster Cathedral on 4th July 2017
This evening it is a great pleasure to welcome our new Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Edward Adams.
The fact that today is the celebration of American Independence adds an additional savour to this moment, and I thank you, Your Excellency, for coming here on a day, which must have a special place in your heart.
Independence is a great yearning of every human being: that ability, space, resources and moral support to pursue a destiny and a way of life that corresponds to the person’s self-understanding and vision. For some, maybe for many, this yearning focusses on their own individual aspirations. As we see, this independence can push a person into an individualism that becomes blind to the reality of the inter-dependence that is part of our human nature. When this becomes a social trend, it leads to a weakening of the bonds of family, local community or even nationhood. This is not the Independence being celebrated today, which in contrast marks the fashioning of a way of life, which sought to respect in a new way both conscience and the sacrifices required of a greater identity.
Yet, Your Excellency, your presence also takes us beyond such meanings of Independence. In contrast, you remind us of an inter-dependence that goes beyond all independence.
You come among us as the personal representative of our Holy Father, Pope Francis who embodies, in his ministry to the Holy See, that bond of Catholic faith, which circles the world. He leads the Church, called to be a powerful sign, a Sacrament indeed, of the inter-dependence of our human family. His ministry is a constant call to recognise that our human family is one; that we are brothers and sisters, no matter distance or difference; that we have a mutual dependence that is too easily forgotten; and that in such forgetfulness too many of our brothers and sisters are exploited, ignored, abandoned in countless different ways which become open wounds in the flesh of our human family.
The ministry of the Pope, of Pope Francis, is demanding. For this reason, we constantly hold our Holy Father in our prayers. Indeed, we are proud, as Catholics in England and Wales, to have a special affection for, and loyalty to, the unity of the Church, embodied in the person of the Pope. This is a powerful part of our history and of the present contours of our faith.
Pope Francis is also the first to tell us that this bond of inter-dependence is rooted in a far greater bond of dependence. He insists that all he is and does, often to the acclaim of the world, flows from his utter dependence on Jesus, his sole Lord and Master, and ours too.
Here lies the true foundation of our lives, the one on whom we place our trust, on whom we depend, from whom we seek no independence.
The Gospel passage we have just heard, of the disciples’ boat caught in a storm, reminds us vividly of the dependence on Jesus experienced by the first disciples and held before us today.
Rather than comment on this passage myself, I want to recall a reflection of Pope Benedict on this same passage. It is a reflection given on 27 February 2013, the day before his dramatic stepping down from the Papacy, spoken at the last General Audience he gave in St Peter’s Square.
Pope Benedict spoke of his eight years of Ministry to the Apostolic See as having been marked by his constant sense of the presence of Jesus, always with him, always close to him. He described those eight years as including moments of ‘joy and light and moments, which were not easy.’ Then he said this:
‘I have felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us so many days of sun and of light winds, days when the catch was abundant; there were also moments when the waters were rough and the winds against us, as throughout the Church’s history, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine but his. Nor does the Lord let it sink; it is he who guides it, surely also through those whom he has chosen, because he so wished. This has been, and is, a certainty, which nothing can shake. For this reason my heart today overflows with gratitude to God, for he has never let his Church, or me personally, lack his consolation, his light, his love.’
Remarkable words! Remarkable, confident faith! A remarkable Holy Father! A declaration of dependence, which far outshines all claims of independence because it is the road to our true fulfilment, our true freedom. Only in this trust in the Lord, even in the times when he may appear to be sleeping, do we find the peace and courage for which our hearts long.
My brothers and sisters, we live in a blessed time in the life of the Church when we have been guided, strengthened, sustained by great Popes, each bringing his own gifts and insight, his own style and charisma to the greatest office in the world.
And it is in this light that we welcome most warmly our Apostolic Nuncio, who in his person brings us close to Pope Francis in his fatherly care for all the churches. In welcoming you, Your Excellency, we welcome His Holiness, Pope Francis. In praying with you, we pray with our Holy Father.
Your Excellency it is my pleasure to assure you, in a most heartfelt manner, of our full cooperation with you in all your responsibilities and of our welcome to you in the support and encouragement that you will give to us in ours.
Together we stand at this altar, here to meet again the Lord on whom we depend. Here, together, we offer him our loving praise and joyful service. Here, together, we receive from him our very life, our nourishment, our commission. In this we are utterly one. May we always rejoice in this unity in Christ and together serve him, in all humility, to the best of our abilities.
May God bless you. May God bless us all as we set out on this new moment in our life of Catholic faith in England and Wales.