Cardinal to preach in Chester at unity service

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A special service to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was held at Chester Cathedral on Sunday (22 January). It drew a crowd of nearly 700 to hear an address by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, pictured here (*) with the Dean of Chester,the Bishops of Stockport and Chester, and (right) the RC Bishop of Shrewsbury.

The unity service was led by church leaders from Churches Together in Cheshire – including the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, and regional leaders from the other denominations.

The cardinal called on Christians across Cheshire to strive for closer unity through prayer and grass roots initiatives.

The Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster said the ecumenical project was essentially a spiritual venture that required the efforts of all the baptised.

“To mend the ruptures of the past is a task that devolves on each one of us here this evening,” he said.

“There are three enemies of ecumenism and they are suspicion, inertia and impatience.

“For too long we have lived, as it were, apart and one of the joys of my years as a priest and bishop has been the growing friendship that has come amongst us.

“For when we meet together and pray together the suspicions of the past dissolve and we reach the heart of the ecumenical movement which is a spiritual movement focused on Jesus Christ the Son of God to whom we pray and in whom we reach the Father.  And, of course, we overcome inertia by what we do together.

“We can have many notional ideas of what we want to do but do we actually do them?  In every village and every town, everywhere, there ought to be some things which Christians are doing together.

“It may be a prayer group; it may be an expression of social concern for the poor and needy; it may be joint services, especially at key times such as today.”

Music was provided by the Cathedral Choir, St Nicholas Catholic High School Choir from Hartford, and the Salvation Army Band.

The theme this year was chosen by Christians from Poland – ‘We will all be changed, by the Victory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15).

Bishop Peter said the occasion was “splendid” and added the “average Christian” under-estimated just how harmful disunity was to the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel.

He said: “Think of a political party. If we know that the Labour Party or the Conservative Party is riven with disputes and disagreements then people do not feel confident voting for that party.

“That is a well-known political reality – that disunity in a party is a real turn-off at the ballot box.

“It doesn’t quite carry over in the same terms in Christian terms but there is a much greater negative effect on Christian witness of Christian disunity than we often realise.”

“I think we must do what we can,” Bishop Peter said. “It is what you do together that matters and it’s what you do together that really makes a difference.”

He added: “There is a lot of practical unity between Christians at a local level. There is a hold up at the institutional level for a variety of reasons.

“But I think that the advances in the last 50 years are real advances. They are in the bank, in a sense. Cardinal Cormac contributed very much to that in practical terms.”

* Photo by Simon Caldwell / St Gabriel News and Media. Additional reporting courtesy of the Diocese of Shrewsbury.