By Peter Jennings
Bishop William Kenney CP, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham was principal celebrant at a special Mass of Thanksgiving in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Chad, Birmingham, on Tuesday 11 September, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of his Ordination to the Episcopate.
Bishop Kenney, a member of the Passionist Congregation, founded by St Paul of the Cross, was ordained bishop in Stockholm on 24 August 1987 and appointed Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of the Diocese. He had been ordained to the priesthood in St Chad’s Cathedral on 29 June 1969.
Archbishop Bernard Longley welcomed Bishop Kenney, Titular Bishop of Midica, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, and members of his spiritual family from Sweden where he served until his appointment to the Archdiocese of Birmingham during October 2006.
Among the concelebrants at the Mass of Thanksgiving was Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of Stockholm, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, and members of the hierarchy of England and Wales.
Bishop Philip Pargeter, Emeritus Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, and priests from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham, in particular Coventry, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, the areas where Bishop Kenney has Pastoral oversight also concelebrated, with Permanent Deacons assisting.
Friends and colleagues, religious sisters and lay faithful from various areas of Bishop Kenney’s life and work, including COMECE, Caritas International and CAFOD, were in the congregation.
Appropriately among the hymns chosen by Bishop Kenney was ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’, and ‘Lead, kindly light’, two of the best-known hymns written by Blessed John Henry Newman. Dr Newman was received into the Catholic Church by the Italian Passionist, Fr (now) Blessed Dominic Barberi CP, at Littlemore, near Oxford, on 9 October 1845.
Sr Madeleine Fredell OP read the second reading in Swedish.
Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. former Master of the Dominicans, preached on the theme “What it means to be a good bishop”, at the request of Bishop Kenney.
During a thought-provoking homily, Fr Radcliffe said: “In the Gospel, Jesus prays ‘that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one.’ The bishop should gather us into unity, practising what Paul calls the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ This is a healing ministry, overcoming division in society and in the Church, in the parishes and the diocese, and with the Universal Church.”
Fr Radcliffe emphasised: “This is not any sort of unity. It is the unity of the Triune God. The Father shares with the Son and the Spirit, everything, even complete divinity. And so the bishop is charged with building a unity that undoes inequality, which strengthens the weak, which purifies the community of domination and humiliation.
“Bishops are ordained to govern. Obviously this involves a lot of administration, letter writing, meetings, taking of difficult decisions. But Christian government is ultimately at the service of the rule of God, not the rule of the bishop.”
Fr Radcliffe stressed: “In our culture of control, the Church should be an oasis of freedom, for we believe in God’s rule. The bishop’s rule, I believe, is always about opening the space for God’s rule.
“God’s rule works through the Holy Spirit which is poured into every member of the Body of Christ. So the bishop’s government is about helping the timid to speak up, the minority to have their word, the despised to be heard with respect and most especially those who disagree with you. It is not about control, but opening the space for God’s surprising grace.”
Fr Radcliffe added: “The trouble is that when one starts to speak the truth, one is likely to stir up controversy, provoke division, and your desk will be deep in angry letters. The greatest challenge for Church leadership today is to how to speak truthfully and preserve unity. If you take a strong stand on a moral issue, then the media will fall upon you, and if you question what the Church has so far taught, and explore some new development then you will stir up a storm. How can you both speak the truth and keep unity? How can we be one without being fuzzy?”
Fr Radcliff concluded: “This requires of us a deep confidence in the great teachings of our faith. It also requires a vast humility in the face of the mystery of God’s love, which is always beyond our grasp. We are a teaching Church, entrusted with the great doctrines of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ. We must dare to teach these with confidence, otherwise our religion will just become tedious moralisation.
“We must also be humble in the face of God’s mystery, beggars after the truth, eager for what anyone can teach us, regardless of whether they are Christian or not. We should be attuned to the creative thinkers, the novelists and filmmakers, the poets and song writers, the wise men and women, for what they can teach us.
“Faced with the strange mixture of wisdom and stupidity of our contemporary society, let us not be defensive and afraid. If we are, we shall just become an embattled little sect. Let us gather in the wisdom of even the most unlikely people. Then we shall gather people into the unity of God’s love, which has a place for everyone.”
Before the final blessing Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, warmly thanked Bishop William Kenny CP, on behalf of the Holy Father, and also on his own behalf, for his 25 years of devoted service to the Catholic Church as a bishop.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, also added his heart-felt thanks to Bishop William Kenney.
It was Archbishop Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham 2000-2009, who had the foresight to bring Bishop William Kenney back to Birmingham, where he grew-up in the parish of St Mary & St John, Gravelly Hill, and attended St Philips Grammar School, next to the Birmingham Oratory, founded by Blessed John Henry Newman.
Archbishop Nichols revealed that he had first spotted Bishop William Kenney during the 1994 Ordinary International Synod of Bishops in Rome on the theme of Religious Life.
Bishop William Kenney, a person of irrepressible energy, particularly in the area of justice and peace, concluded with some words of thanks to various people before he gave the final blessing. It was a deeply prayerful, moving and most of all happy and joyful occasion on a lovely sunny September day in Birmingham.