The Solemn Mass of Installation of the the Right Reverend Robert Byrne, C.O. (Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri), as the fourteenth Bishop of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, will take place at 12.00 noon on Monday, 25 March 2019 in the Cathedral Church of St Mary, Newcastle upon Tyne. The day chosen is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, O.P., Metropolitan Archbishop of Liverpool, accompanied by Bishop Séamus Cunningham, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, will present Bishop Byrne to the Dean of the Cathedral, Reverend Father Dermott Donnelly, representing the clergy and laity of the Diocese. After the Apostolic Mandate of Appointment is read by the Chancellor of the Diocese, Reverend Father Simon Lerche, Bishop Byrne will then be led to the Cathedra (Bishop’s Chair) by Archbishop McMahon, where he will be presented with the Crozier, the sign of a Bishop’s office and ministry, by Bishop Cunningham.
The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Adams representing Pope Francis, will be present, along with the His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and the Bishops and Ordinaries of the Catholic Dioceses of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Great Britain, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falklands. The Bishops will include also include the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, where Bishop Byrne has served for the past five years as Auxiliary Bishop. Priests, Deacons and Religious from the Archdiocese of Birmingham and Hexham and Newcastle will be present, along with the Clergy of the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri. Bishop Byrne’s family and friends will also be present. Ecumenical and other faith representatives and civic dignitaries will be present as well as lay representatives of the Parishes of the Diocese.
Today we celebrate a big day – in the life of Our Lady – a momentous day, a day of new beginnings. And today, is a day of new beginnings both in my life and the life of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle too. I come to you, today, as your new bishop. Arriving from another diocese and from a religious Congregation, that have both helped to form me over the last thirty-nine years – quite naturally, I still come to you over-awed and with some trepidation. On this day, I take great comfort from the Mother of God who also remained daunted however resolute her ‘yes’.
I’ve been given all sorts of good advice from a number of people about this homily, about what to say and about what not to say: but in the end, like Mary, on such an occasion, I can only speak from the heart – and try to give a glimpse of my poor ‘yes’ to His plans.
First, to say how deeply honoured and humbled I am to be chosen to serve in this ancient and distinguished diocese, that is blessed with a great number of missionary and martyr saints. The Annals note, that our diocese was founded in 678 and restored on the 29th September 1850. One couldn’t but be aware, especially on a day like today, of the spiritual heritage to which, with you, I am successor: to St Cuthbert and the other great northern saints. I hope that their prayers and example will guide all of us in the years ahead.
I would like to pay tribute to Bishop Seamus for the great contribution he has made to our diocese in the last decade, and also for the great kindness he has shown me. He has been a great example of faith and goodness to all of us and I would like to thank him for that.
As Christ’s faithful, we are on a journey of faith, that we hope will lead us to heaven – the eternal vision of God, which is his will for us all. Like any journey we learn as we walk on our way together. We develop and change but our faith, and the end to which we travel, remains the same. More importantly, our faith when lived to the full turns into a loving trust in the Lord Jesus so that our love and service of him remains steadfast and fruitful. Conscious of remaining steadfast I recall today the many who have been wounded in the church these past years through the criminal actions of some of the clergy including some Bishops. I can only say how sorry I am that such pain has been caused. In recognising their pain I also want to acknowledge the many priests and religious who have given themselves so generously in the Lord’s service.
As we have just heard in the Gospel, however disturbed or overawed we may be, with faith, our yes to the Lord can be as resolute and confident as Our Lady’s. She is the supreme testament to the fact that God will give us all the help we need to reach out with faith and love and to realise his presence in the world – for its good and God’s glory.
As for any bishop it is my responsibility to accompany you on this journey. Firstly, by helping you hold firm to the gospel which is handed on to us by the apostles: and taught by the Church, we proclaim its truth in season and out. It is also my responsibility to help sanctify and build up the Church in this diocese, especially by my care and leadership of the priests and people. Of course the Church doesn’t exist in a vacuum. All of us are called to be missionary and to reach out to those who have not heard the gospel, to the poor and marginalised for whatever reason. I look forward to working with our fellow Christians and other faith groups to contribute to the common good in our region. All this is a huge task and one that can only be done with you and assisted by your prayers. Cardinal Hume (a great son of Newcastle!) once famously said that the bishops are buoyed up by the prayers of the faithful. I ask your prayers today.
Didn’t we just hear that Our Lady had her questions in the face of God’s plans? I’m aware that there are important questions facing us, as indeed they face any diocese. I am more than prepared to listen and to learn. Nonetheless, I am sure that our way forward will emerge. As Bishop Seamus said in his recent pastoral letter: we need a “clear vision” of what we are and where we are going. I am convinced that new perspectives will emerge, ever more clearly, if we are constant to the faith, as revealed to us by Christ and proclaimed by the Church down through the ages.
It is by our fidelity to Jesus Christ, through our sacramental encounters with him, especially in the Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that we will hear him speaking in the depths of our hearts. It is by respecting and truly listening to one another, both in the Church and outside that we will find new ways to be a loyal and vibrant local Church, looking to the future with confidence.
Today we celebrate the great day on which God took our human nature to Himself. It is the central event in world history. The Incarnation of the Son of God opens up to human beings a new life and the possibility of heaven. We need to respond to this wonderful truth with more than our minds – but to embrace it with our heart and live it day by day as a life-changing event. How do we do that? For this, we need, says Pope Francis “the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid the great silence by which God speaks to us.” To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own securities, beyond our apathy and indifference – to seek out that which is true, beautiful and good. You’ll allow this indulgence to your Oratorian bishop but it was the Blessed Cardinal Newman who said: “ Christ came to gather together in one all the elements of good dispersed throughout the world, to make them his own, to illuminate them with himself, to reform and refashion them into himself. He came to make a new and better beginning of all things than Adam had been, and to be the fountain-head from which all good might flow.”
So I ask all of you today, priests, deacons, religious and lay-faithful to join with me on this journey to a new vision of life in Christ. We look to the past with respect and to the future with confidence. We will be depending on the prayers of Our Lady, conceived without sin, Patroness of the Diocese and to those of Sts Cuthbert, Bede, the saints of Lindisfarne and our martyrs too.
May God who began his great work on this day in the womb of the Blessed Virgin bring it to completion in us.