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Bishop Tartaglia on need to fight for Christian freedom

Mass of Thanksgiving for the 25th Anniversary of St Charles’ Church, Paisley

We are gathered to give thanks for this fine church of St. Charles’, Paisley, on the 25th Anniversary of its Opening in the year 1986 by my predecessor Bishop Stephen McGill in the ninth year of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II. I am sure that Bishop McGill must have been delighted and proud to have inaugurated, dedicated and blessed this church for this parish, and I too am pleased to come here today to mark its Silver Jubilee with thanksgiving and praise to God.

In doing so we rightly recall the priests who served here over that period, living and dead. Some of them are happily here with us this evening, and I am sure you are pleased to see them again. I think it is right to mention in a special way the priests who were here when the Church was built and opened, since in a real sense they oversaw the coming-to-be of the this church with all its joys and responsibilities. The parish priest then was Father Paddy Burke, who has gone to God, and with him were Father Charles Cavanagh, now Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Greenock and Father Willie Harkins, until fairly recently Parish Priest of St. Paul’s Paisley, and now retired. I am sure their eye-witness accounts would add interesting detail to the official history. The saint in whose honour this church is named to the glory of God, and the saint whose feast we celebrated today, St. Charles Borromeo, was a bishop for whom the reform and renewal of the clergy was a major priority, and he is considered to be a special patron of priests and of seminaries. So, in remembering the priests who have served in this church, we associate ourselves in a special way with St. Charles and continue to ask his guidance and inspiration for our priests today.

The purpose of a church is to give glory and praise to God, to have a place especially dedicated to the celebration of the sacred mysteries, and to form the people who gather in it, through prayer and word and sacrament, to be the church, the body of Christ. And so we bring before God on this day of jubilee and thanksgiving all the parishioners of Saint Charles, past and present, especially those who saw this church built, who were the first to worship here, and who over the years had a special responsibility for the care of the church or who have exercised some special ministry here in this church. But really this is a sacred event and a joyful occasion for all the parishioners of St. Charles, and we allow this special anniversary, this silver jubilee, to call us once again to renew our faith in Jesus Christ and to embrace our vocation as his disciples.

While we give joyful thanks for the Silver Jubilee of this Church of St. Charles’ Paisley, we accept that twenty five years is a significant but relatively short time in the life of a church, and it is so even more in relation to the history of St. Charles’ Parish which was founded in 1897, just about 20 years after the restoration of the Scottish Catholic Hierarchy and early on in the modern revival of the Catholic Church in Scotland after Catholic Emancipation. When St. Charles Parish was opened, there was a new recognition that people had a right to religious freedom and freedom of worship. All along, religious freedom has accompanied the peaceful existence, and the growth and flourishing of St. Charles’ Parish over the last 114 years. I mention this particular facet of the historical context of the origins and growth of this parish because it has assumed a new relevance in our situation today. We have taken religious freedom for granted for so long. But we need to be aware that we are living now in a particular and uncertain cultural moment, and I sense that religious freedom, the freedom to practice, express and spread our faith, is becoming a significant matter concern for the future of Catholic and Christian communities here in our own country and throughout the world. Our future in this parish and elsewhere will be marked by the extent to which religious freedom continues to be recognised in our country as a primary and inalienable human right.

The 25th anniversary of St Charles’ Church points us to the entire history of the St. Charles’ Parish as a Catholic community in the heart of Paisley, but from there we must look to the future. There are three things which we need to do in the future.

* First, we need a new engagement with the person of Jesus Christ. This evening’s Gospel puts before us Christ the Good Shepherd. We know he is the Good Shepherd because, amazingly, he lays down his life for his sheep. We hear his voice. He knows each one of us. He is the true shepherd. I think I can say with some certainty that the future of this parish lies in a new encounter with Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. A new engagement with Jesus Christ is the only sure way in which we will be able to nourish and sustain our faith and account adequately to ourselves for our on-going religious commitment in a secularised society where faith in God is increasingly a private matter, unsupported by the state and increasingly unwelcome in it.

* Secondly, we have to transmit the faith effectively to children and young people. Because of our young people are increasing exposed to a culture which leaves less and less space for religion, this transmission of the faith in the present and the future has to be even more effective than it has been in the past.

*And thirdly we have to make the case for us to retain a sufficient public space within our society in which to carry out the fundamental activities which sustain the life of the Church: to worship freely and to organise the life of the church without the unwarranted intrusion of the state; freely to celebrate and support Christian marriage and family life; freely to engage in the catechesis of the young and to carry out transformative and charitable social action; and freely to raise the question of God convincingly in new ways to the people of our generation, many of whom recognise the emptiness of the godless world in front of them and are truly searching for deeper sense and deeper meaning.

A new and authentic encounter with Jesus Christ is the only way we will bring something radical and new to the heart of Paisley. The future of this great parish of St. Charles requires individually and together that we seek a new encounter with Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.

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