Father Christmas Comes Home To St. Walburge

Father Christmas Comes Home To St. Walburge

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By Michael Durnan

Updated December 2015

Canon Altiere is a priest with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign priest (ICKSP) at the Shrine of St. Walburge in Preston, a historically Catholic town in northern England. A year ago, however, Saint Walburge’s fate hung by a thread. Though a most beloved landmark – and a center of faith going back 150 years —  changing demographics had rendered its future very uncertain.

Abbe Baudouin Chaptal de Chanteloup, Canon Francis Altiere, Canon Amaury Montjean (from The Dome of The Home) and Abbe Guillaume Fenoll

The heart-breaking truth is that Saint Walburge’s was a church no longer able to sustain parish life; it was threatened with closure when Bishop Michael Campbell made a creative and forward-looking decision. Saint Walburge’s would become a “shrine”– giving a new lease on life to a church where generations of Prestonians have worshiped and received the sacraments.

Now this young priest, ordained in August 2014 by Cardinal Raymond Burke, is entrusted with the daily administration of this new shrine.  A senior confrere not far away in New Brighton helps keeps an eye on things and two seminarians are an indispensable help, says Canon Altiere in this look at how things are going in Preston’s wonderful new Christmas gift.

“THE OPENING SOLEMN HIGH MASS AT ST. WALBURGE IN SEPTEMBER 2014 was very moving: seeing the church filled to capacity, witnessing the high altar being used once again for the liturgy for which it was built, the fatherly welcome and touching sermon by Bishop Michael Campbell, the kind welcome by the local people and clergy.”

“THE EXPERIENCE OF THE OPENING MASS SHOWS US THE POWER AND BEAUTY OF THE CHURCH’S TIMELESS LITURGY: in the weeks following the Mass we have had young people coming to the shrine who told us how happy they were to discover this liturgy for the first time, and other people of another generation returning to the sacraments after being touched by the grace of this beautiful opening ceremony.”

 

“A NEW PROJECT SUCH AS THIS IS NATURALLY CHALLENGING, but with patience and with help from dedicated local volunteers – and above all with God’s grace – we have been able to make a lot of progress after our first few weeks here.”

“WE HAVE RESTORED ONE OF THE ORIGINAL CONFESSIONALS — a pressing concern since the church offers the sacrament every day — and refurbished the dining room in the presbytery, making a welcoming place for tea and coffee after Mass. Our volunteer choir contributes greatly to the beauty of the liturgy. We have also begun a fortnightly adult catechism class: I have been very pleased by the turnout for the first few meetings.”

“GOD HAS GIVEN US THE CONSOLATION OF SEEING PEOPLE GROWING IN THEIR SPIRITUAL LIFE because of the providential opening of the church: from non-Catholics coming to learn more about the Catholic faith, to people coming to confession or Adoration after happening to chance upon the open doors, to people asking to be received into the Church. God willing, we will have two adult baptisms this Easter.”

“WITH A UNIVERSITY NEXT DOOR IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE A CHURCH WITH OPEN DOORS in order to minister to the young people who, at this important time in their lives, are exposed not only to new opportunities but also to many temptations and challenges to their faith.”

“THE CIVIL AUTHORITIES HAVE BEEN VERY WELCOMING AND THE PEOPLE OF THE FORMER PARISH OF SAINT WALBURGE’S ARE VERY HAPPY to know that the future of their church has now been assured. The parish of Saint Walburge no longer exists as such (the former parish territory had already been merged with the neighbouring parish before the shrine opened); Saint Walburge’s is thus now a shrine with its own canonical identity and no territorial boundaries.”

“WE ARE VERY GRATEFUL TO THE FORMER PARISHIONERS WHO CONTINUE TO VOLUNTEER IN THE CHURCH BY CLEANING, giving tours, arranging flowers and so on – ensuring the continuity between this new endeavour with the proud history of Saint Walburge’s.”

“BECAUSE OF OUR PARTICULAR MISSION OF PROVIDING A HOME FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO DISCOVER THE TRADITIONAL LATIN LITURGY we have also received the special privilege of being able to provide the services that would normally be held only in a parish (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.) for those who wish to worship in this way. We hope that as time goes on, the members of the former parish will come to participate more and more in the life of the shrine.”

“OUR PRINCIPAL MISSION IS TO MAKE SAINT WALBURGE’S A HOUSE OF PRAYER. Already the Divine Office, the Church’s continual “sacrifice of praise,” is celebrated daily in the church. In addition to daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, we sing the offices of Lauds, Vespers and Compline every day.”

“BOTH THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER AND THE SUPERIORS OF THE INSTITUTE HAVE BEEN VERY CLEAR in establishing the shrine that their primary intention is to enable the church to be open every day as a setting for liturgical and personal prayer. Everything else must flow from this. Our major short-term goal is simply to increase our visibility in Preston: we were very pleased by the large turnout at the opening Mass, but many people still do not know the church is now open every day.”

“THE PARISH PRIESTS WHO PRECEDED US AT SAINT WALBURGE’S HAVE DONE WONDERFUL WORK in undertaking the restoration of the church’s magnificent stained-glass windows. We intend to follow the same path and see this project to its completion. We naturally need to raise funds in order to take care of the church.”

“GIVEN OUR EMPHASIS ON THE SOLEMN CELEBRATION OF THE SACRED LITURGY WE NEED TO RAISE MONEY FOR THE SACRISTY as time goes on, especially since hardly any of the original vestments remain. Someday, we hope to be able to restore to the church to its original glory: stencilled east wall, marble communion rails, etc.”

“LITURGICALLY, ADVENT IS ONE OF THE HIGH POINTS OF THE YEAR, NOT ONLY WITH THE PREPARATION FOR CHRISTMAS BUT ALSO FOR THE GREAT FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION which providentially falls during this time. Our Institute celebrates this feast with particular solemnity, as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is our principal patroness, and so at Saint Walburge’s we will be following the same custom as at our motherhouse in Gricigliano, Italy: a solemn Novena of preparation in honour of the Mother of God.”

People are starved for the traditional devotions that are the lifeblood of the popular practice of our religion. We held October devotions every day for the month of the rosary, and we hope to see a similar enthusiasm in Advent. At the beginning crowds are small, but the important thing is to provide these devotions and then to let providence do the rest.”

“AT 309 FEET, THE BELLTOWER AT SAINT WALBURGE’S IS THE THIRD TALLEST IN ENGLAND — In fact, the tallest independent bell tower, since the two cathedrals with taller spires have belltowers that spring from the roof. Every Saturday we have guided tours – given by the church caretaker, a longtime parishioner – which include the possibility to visit the spire. The church is also noteworthy for its impressive war memorial, which includes a medieval Crucifixion scene  — it predates Preston city’s official war monument.”

“THIS IS SAINT WALBURGE’S PATRIMONY, BUT AS CATHOLICS WE KNOW THAT A CHURCH SHOULD NEVER SIMPLY BECOME A TOURIST ATTRACTION. It is the other way around: the fact that a beautiful and historic church has the power to attract not only practicing Catholics but also the lapsed and nonbelievers provides a wonderful opportunity in terms of evangelisation. And we know that the final goal of evangelisation is not simply spreading a message of culture or goodwill but bringing people into contact with the truths necessary for salvation. This is the mission we hope to accomplish, in our own small way, with the help of divine grace: working for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

To donate: St Walburge’s/ICKSP, charity number: 1144783

http://www.stwalburge.org/support/

Contact:

Catholic Shrine Church of St. Walburge

Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest
Weston Street
Preston
Lancashire
PR2 2QE

Telephone: 07894 55928407894 559284
Resident Priest: Canon Francis ALTIERE
can.altiere@icrsp.org (pers.) / preston@icrsp.org

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