Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dangerous cliffs and a trouser kite

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After lecturing at Wonersh yesterday, I drove down to Eastbourne for a couple of days R&R. This afternoon, Fr Briggs and I visited Beachy Head, home to some perilous cliffs:

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Sadly, Beachy Head is a renowned place for people to commit suicide and the Police, a chaplaincy team and other volunteers try to do their bit.

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It is scary to be near the unprotected edge of the cliffs.

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In a very British manner, one gentleman was making use of the wind to fly a couple of kites:

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One of them being a pair-of-trousers-kite:

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This morning we enjoyed the hospitality of the good people of Our Lady of Ransom parish Church at Eastbourne for Mass. We'll be there again tomorrow morning (about 10.30am). Here is a picture of the beautiful Lady altar which I took on my last visit:

Farewell to Sylvester

The Mulier Fortis just sent a text message to say that the much blogged and beloved cat Sylvester died earlier today after failing to recover from anaesthetic. Taking good care of animals is a sign of our humanity and it is sad to hear of a pet dying.

In honour of Sylvester, here is a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. (Catechism 2416)

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Family Rosary

After evening Mass today I was invited round to a family home in the parish for a delicious plate of roast lamb, and fun conversation with a group of youngsters who are, one-by-one growing up and leaving the nest for university.

The evening ended with the family Rosary led by Dad in a sitting room lit only by a candle (last year's paschal candle, in fact - big families always find uses for things that would otherwise be thrown away.)

As a secular priest, living on my own in the parish, outside of the Sacred Liturgy, I usually say my prayers on my own. It is therefore a joy to share prayers with a family occasionally. When I was in Camberwell, the renowned Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ once spoke to the youth group. They were mainly of Irish families and he asked them whether they said the Rosary together as a family. Some did, some didn't. He pointed out that if they did not, they were probably the first generation in a thousand years to abandon this practice. The Family Rosary is a most powerful devotion which brings many blessings on parents and children. The devil hates it and will do anything he can to stop it.

When visiting families, I never leave without giving a blessing, normally using the Visita quaesumus prayer to ask for the protection of the holy angels. If you have a priest visit your home, always ask him to bless your home and family. It is a grace for you, given ex opere operantis ecclesiae, that is to say, fortified by the prayers of the whole Church, since it is an approved sacramental. It is also a good reminder to the priest of why he is there in your home. He may be a friend, he may like to share food and drink with you, he may tell good jokes (or not, as the case may be) - but his principal place in your home is as a priest of Jesus Christ.

Just another great picture from the Mall

I just filched this photo from one of my Facebook parishioner friends (- with slight edits.) It shows a group of parishioners on the Mall at night after the Hyde Park vigil. London became quite Catholic for a day. (For those not familiar with London, that building in the background is Buckingham Palace.)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Ad multos annos from The Seminarians

The other day I began again at Wonersh with the first lecture of my course on Sacramental Theology. There was quite a buzz at the seminary after the visit of the Holy Father. Several students had been helping at Eccleston Square with reinforcements being drafted in during the immediate run-up to the visit. The highlight for them was the gathering of all the seminarians at Oscott to meet the Holy Father.

The video above shows them gathering for the photo. Mgr Mark Crisp, the Rector of Oscott, was a year above me at the English College in Rome. It was great to see him sitting next to the Holy Father. I also picked out in the video students that I have taught in the past, some of whom are to be ordained to the Diaconate in December, as well those who are currently enduring my explanation of the phrase ex opere operato.

It was a good idea for the seminarians to start up the Ad multos annos for the Holy Father. That is sung at many seminaries on the occasion of an ordination, an anniversary, or the visit of a distinguished guest.

Talking to the spiritual director at Wonersh yesterday, I said that in England and Wales over recent years, there seems to have grown up a healthy cameraderie among students training for the priesthood at the various colleges. They often refer to themselves with a proper sense of corps d'esprit as "The Seminarians." This culture has been helped by a close co-operation between vocations directors, including our own tireless labourer in the vineyard Fr Stephen Langridge, director of vocations for Southwark. I have also noticed the same at the conferences of the Faith Movement. At the Summer Session for some time now, we have welcomed a significant proportion of The Seminarians each year.

You can see in the video the warm enthusiastic and loyal welcome that they gave to the Holy Father which is a significant focus of unity among those training for the priesthood. You will be greatly blessed to have these men serve you in the Church in England and Wales. Please remember them all in your prayers as they prepare for ordination.

Thanks to Fr Ray Blake for posting the photo. (I would be grateful for advice of where a larger resolution jpeg could be obtained.)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Telly addicts - well just for a few days

Picture taken of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate at a motorway service station somewhere near Slough on the way back from Cofton Park.

Brendan O'Neill on "Protest the Pope"

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Brendan O'Neill, whom I met recently, is an atheist who writes for Spiked online. Today he has a very good article discussing the Protest the Pope demo. Here is a flavour:
This was less a coherent protest against a real problem, and more a madcap attempt to transform the pontiff into a political pin cushion, into which every group desperately seeking a sliver of purpose could then stick their particular pin. So some were protesting against paedophilia, others against AIDS; some were concerned about Holocaust denial, others about homophobia, and others still about the undermining of human rights. And apparently the pope, taking over from money, is the root of all of these problems and of evil in general, being a wicked, Prada-wearing, Bush-meeting devil and all. Some even waved placards saying ‘STOP STONING’ and ‘Religion flies planes into buildings’, which, correct me if I’m wrong, are problems that are associated with the Islamic faith rather the Catholic one. But who cares. Got a grievance? Pin it on the pope.
Read the rest here

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Bl John Henry Newman on the English Martyrs

This is a great video from Mary's Dowry Productions illustrating the words of the Blessed John Henry Newman about the English Martyrs.

Here is the information for the video:
Cardinal John Henry Newman's quote about the English Martyrs with snippets of footage from original films on DVD on St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Edmund Campion, St. Nicholas Owen, St. Anne Line, St. Polydore Plasden, St. Edmund Gennings, St. Swithun Wells, St. Margaret Ward and more upcoming English Martyrs films available worldwide on DVD. Visit for more information. All of these DVDs are available to buy online and available in all region formats.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

News of the World calls Benedict "People's Pope"

The other day, I mentioned the Sun's positive coverage of the papal visit. In England, the largest circulation Sunday paper is the News of the World ("Whose life can we ruin today?") As with the Sun, it is far more widely read than the broadsheets and has a significant impact on public opinion. In today's edition, the subs came up with the headline "Bene's from heaven" and the strapline "People's Pope leaves Britain with a smile on its face".

In the run-up to the visit, there were many occasions when I had to respond quietly and patiently to clergy who solemnly told me that Pope Benedict did not have much appeal to ordinary people. So it is hugely gratifying to see the News of the World characterise him as the "People's Pope".

Dinner, coach, and Newman beatification

After seeing the Pope yesterday afternoon, I had to collect my bag from the media centre and then rush down to Chislehurst where Fr Briggs was holding a celebratory dinner at the Chislehurst Golf Club: Camden House which was once the home of Napeleon III and the Empress Eugenie in their exile after the Franco-Prussian war.

Back home afterwards, we were in time to see off one of the Bexley Deanery coaches going to Birmingham. Gregory was still sporting his holographic yoof badge which was, it must be admitted, somewhat more kewl than the press pass that I had.

There was a great atmosphere as the coach was leaving.

Pilgrims I spoke to told me of a gruelling night, arriving at Cofton Park at 4.30am, then having to walk up a hill to the security (though that was not too intrusive.) It was drizzling most of the rest of the night; one family brought a large tarpaulin with them which made it a little less unpleasant than being on wet grass. They also had a giant sleeping bag which did for some of the younger children. As usual at such events, it was a chance to meet other Catholic families. Mine met up with the Preeces and the Herberts, both stalwarts of the family apostolate.

This morning, I watched bits of the Mass before and after my parish 10.30am Mass. We had to have low Mass today since the organist was the pilgrim leader, and some of the choir were with her in Birmingham. We took over the large screen TV in the parish club after Mass and swapped between EWTN, Sky and the BBC until it was all over.

In his sermon, Pope Benedict recalled the evil ideology of Nazism and the suffering undergone by nearby Coventry which was heavily bombed in 1940. In the list of those the Holy Father recalled as a long line of England's saints and scholars, the Blessed John Duns Scotus gained a mention. The dear Sisters of the Immaculate who often come to my usus antiquior Mass will be pleased at that.

Speaking of the Blessed John Henry Newman, the Holy Father drew particular attention to his work for education, taking a further opportunity to stress the importance of proper attention to the needs of the human person:
Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.

Along with many priests this morning, I preached about Blessed John Henry Newman and encouraged people to seek his intercession as is now permitted after his beatification. I look forward to celebrating his feast day on 9 October

Hyde Park Vigil

Yesterday my parishioners gathered together at Park Lane before going into Hyde Park for the vigil. they had the smaller of our two parish flags since the other one was being carried by our designated yoof person for the banner parade.

I was pleased to see that there was time for a game of football before the vigil itself

Here are some of our future bloggers - though by the time they grow up, I expect blogging will be a thing of the past and some new technological invention will take its place.

But this was what they all came for - Pope Benedict, the vigil, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the heart of London.

During his address at the vigil, the Holy Father referred to Newman's words towards the end of his life.
At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).
This was a reference to Newman's Biglietto speech when he was created a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Newman said on that occasion:
I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.
Pope Benedict also referred to the martyrs of Tyburn, just across the road from the vigil at Hyde Park
Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied.
Referring to Newman's famous meditation "God has created me to do him some definite service", the Holy Father said:
No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society
Speaking particularly to the many young people present, Pope Benedict reminded them of the various possible vocations to which the Lord might call them.

The vigil concluded with silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction - a moving witness of faith in Jesus Christ, truly present in the most holy Eucharist. One young person who was there told me that nobody else near to him knew the words of the Tantum Ergo. Rectifying that by the regular celebration of Adoration and Benediction in schools would be a powerful and effective way of responding to the Holy Father's call to the life of prayer.

When "Viva il Papa" isn't quite so welcome

After the Westminster Cathedral Mass yesterday, I took a stroll up Whitehall, passing a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph. At Trafalgar Square, there was a large police presence and the sound of a distant megaphone, indicating that the Protest the Pope demo was on its way.

I managed to get across to Trafalgar Square itself and was quite close to the march as it passed along. One of the sidekicks of Peter Tatchell's Outrage section was not too pleased to see a Catholic priest at the kerb.

Many of the placards bore a striking resemblance to the SWP trademark 2x1 stick with standard lettering and footer. (I wonder if they are by any chance related.) Here is one of the more thoughtful ones, though perhaps a little puzzling for the average passer-by:

Naturally, the smelly socks brigade included a few clowns with blown-up condoms:

And the intellectual level of debate was what we might expect:

I'm not sure that the marxists among the crowd would necessarily approve of this reference which rather misses the point of Karl's famous saying:

After seeing the Holy Father drive up Constitution Hill in the popemobile, I made my way on to Hyde Park Corner where the Muslims were in full voice. The copper in the front of this picture was a little concerned at my leading a group of papal flag-waving pilgrims in shouting Viva il Papa! thought our right to free speech was properly respected.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Pope Benedict at Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral has one of the finest choirs in England and it was a fitting reward for their dedication that this morning they were seen and heard throughout the world providing the music for the Votive Mass of the Precious Blood celebrated by Pope Benedict. The backbone of the music was Byrd's Mass for five voices which was sung impeccably with great depth and character. Credo III was sung antiphonally, providing a stirring contrast between the purity of the voices in the choir and the enthusiastic participation of the congregation. The offertory motet was Bruckner's Christus Factus est, and Hassler's O sacrum convivium was sung at Holy Communion, in addition to the proper communion chant and the hymn O bread of heaven.

As with other posts, the pictures are screen grabs from the webcast on the UK Papal Visit website.

You might recognise one or two of the priests among this shot of the concelebrants:

The Mass was celebrated versus populum at the High Altar. The big six candlesticks were used in their normal place on the marble platform behind the altar. There was an additional crucifix placed upon the altar itself. As with all of the public Masses of the visit, the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer were said in Latin (today, the Roman Canon was used.) As is customary at Pope Benedict's Masses, there was an extended time of silence both after the sermon and after Holy Communion.

Near the beginning of the sermon, the Holy Father referred to himself as the successor of St Peter (as indeed he did at Westminster Abbey yesterday.) As the Mass was a Votive Mass of the Precious Blood, he spoke of this mystery, reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the priesthood. In a reference to England's Catholic history, he said:
The reality of the Eucharistic sacrifice has always been at the heart of Catholic faith; called into question in the sixteenth century, it was solemnly reaffirmed at the Council of Trent against the backdrop of our justification in Christ. Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist which has been a hallmark of Catholicism in these lands.
The Holy Father applied the theology of the Eucharistic sacrifice to the oblation that we make of our own sufferings, even quoting Pascal's phrase that Christ continues in agony until the end of time.

Speaking of suffering, he made what is being referred to by SKY this afternoon as his "strongest apology yet" for the suffering caused to children by abuse. I'm not sure it is stronger than the many other times he has spoken unambiguously on this subject but it was clear and straightforward.

Applying the contemplation of the cross (he referred more than once to the magnificent hanging in the Cathedral crucifix), the Holy Father drew on the teaching of Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem to speak about the lay apostolate. When speaking to the Scots Bishops in February, he warned of the tendency to confuse lay apostolate and lay ministry. Today he stressed particularly the mutually supportive relationship between laity and priests.
For the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt; and the more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out.

After the Mass, Pope Benedict processed to the west door of the Cathedral to meet the young people who had gathered in the Piazza. There was one young person from every parish in the country. It was stirring to see the rapturous and enthusiastic welcome that the young people gave to the Holy Father. It really gave the lie to those who have tried to pour lukewarm water on the visit by saying that Pope Benedict did not appeal to the young.

This morning was a glorious witness of faith. Pope Benedict said that he welcomed the challenge of coming to the UK. We can all be very glad that he took it up.

Vigil at Nunciature

Various people have passed on positive news of the Vigil at the Apostolic Nunciature on Thursday night. The Holy Father came to the window and waved. Just before I left the media centre yesterday evening, the screens showed him doing the same thing on his return after Westminster Abbey. I hope he got the chance of a good sleep there because it is another long day for him today. Well done especially to James and Daniella of the Pope Benedict in Southwark blog.

The Knights of St Columba invite people to join them this evening outside the Nunciature from 6.30-8.30pm

Unusual sight in the Mall

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The other day, Anna Arco mentioned on Twitter that there were massive papal flags along the Mall, so I determined to get some photos. It was gloriously fresh and sunny morning first thing this morning in London so it was a great opportunity.

The above photo gives you a better impression of the length of the Mall. This zoom foreshortens this next one but you get some more of Buckingham Palace:

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Looking the other way towards Admiralty Arch (through there you get to the South side of Trafalgar Square):

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(Note for Americans: jay-walking is not prohibited in England.)

Another unusual sight in London is Methodist Central Hall decorated with the papal colours:

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The Holy Father will drive in the popemobile past St James's Park. Looking across the park from Horse Guards, you wouldn't think you were in central London.

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Friday, 17 September 2010

Well there was popery anyway

The ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey has just concluded. There was some very beautiful singing, including Duruflé's Ubi Caritas, the Pope and the Archbishop Canterbury delivered addresses, and venerated the shrine of St Edward.

There was a rather noisy gathering of Protestants outside beforehand. Fortunately there were plenty of Catholics mixed up among them so the boos were mostly drowned out by the cheers. Rather a pity to have a protest like that but I don't expect it bothered the Pope too much. A French journalist who was standing next to me was completely baffled by it.

The fragility of social consensus

This afternoon, the Holy Father spoke at Westminster Hall, part of the Palace of Westminster. Once again he praised Britain warmly - for the Parliament which has been so influential, and for the common law tradition. He recalled St Thomas More and this was the launching-point for the main point of his discourse. He pointed out that the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More's trial present themselves anew:
Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved?
He then warned:
If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
As an example of the ethical dimension of policy, he mentioned the abolition of the slave trade as one of the British Parliament's notable achievements.

The Holy Father recognised the problems of sectarianism and fundamentalism which can arise when religion does not take account of the purifying and structuring role of reason. However, in a brilliant return to the example of the slave trade, he noted that there is a two-way process:
Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century.
The passage that will be most quoted in the papers tomorrow spoke of Christmas, but it is worth considering the whole paragraph:
Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.
Later he expressed his conviction that the Church and public authorities in Britain could work together in many ways but said:
For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church.
This is a clear reference to the Catholic adoption agencies in England which have been forced to close or to agree in principle to assist in the adoption of children by homosexual couples.

Links to follow Papal Visit

I am off up to town shortly and will be there overnight so I want to have a handy list of links to access on my laptop. I know I could use social bookmarking, have my desktop in the cloud or whatever, but plonking them in a post here is a quick way to do it. Besides, it might be helpful to some of you. These are the tabs I am currently keeping open:

Papal Visit live webcast
Backup of same
Papal Visit timeline
Catholic Herald live blog
Protect the Pope
Catholic Voices Media Monitor
Telegraph live blog
Guardian live blog

Following @catholicherald on Twitter is a must.

The Sun now joining the party

On the blogs we tend to quote articles from the broadsheets. In fact, the Guardian has a circulation of just over 300,000 while the Sun has a circulation of 3 million - the largest of our newspapers. It is not a paper that I think should be in any Catholic home since one of its flagship features is "Page 3", a daily picture of a woman showing off her breasts. Nevertheless, anyone interested in popular opinion needs to take note of the line taken by the Sun. Notoriously, the paper can make or break politicians at election time.

It is therefore encouraging to see the coverage of the Papal Visit in the Sun today. The summary article has a characteristic headline "Her Maj has tea as Pope sticks to Pop" noting the Holy Father's preference for Fanta which I mentioned a couple of years ago, winning some really bizarre media coverage.

That's just the hook, though. The article goes on to speak warmly of the visit, dutifully mentioning the various controversies but putting them in context. The summary of the speech at Holyrood House is as follows:
After his meeting with the Queen the Pope went outside and made a speech praising Britain.

He said: "Your forefathers' respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity, come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good."

But the Pope said a growth of "aggressive secularism" and "atheist extremism" risked destroying our values of honesty, respect and fair-mindedness.
That's not a bad short account. The article goes on to note that the Pope praised Britain's fight against Hitler and spoke of his being "forced" to join the Hitler youth.

On another hot button issue, the Sun is impeccably even-handed:
Others protested about paedophile priests. The Pope had pre-empted some of the criticism on the flight to Edinburgh, expressing his sadness at the church's failings on the sexual abuse of children.
The account of the Bellahouston Mass is warm and upbeat, with some great photos.

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that anyone go out and buy the Sun. However many ordinary people in England take their lead from the coverage there and I think we have been well served by this article and others in the paper. It will serve to dilute the spleen of the Metropolitan elite who have been relentlessly trying to dish dirt.
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