Be Missionary Disciples, Bishop urges students

The Bishop of Salford has urged students and other worshippers in Manchester to be ‘missionary disciples’. Echoing the words of Pope Francis, he was speaking at Mass to celebrate the Jesuits’ 50 year association with the Catholic Chaplaincy on the University campus.

Bishop John Arnold (pictured left) was celebrating Mass at Holy Name Church with the British Jesuit Provincial, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, and the Jesuit Chaplains to Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy. In his homily, he said that, although it was right to celebrate the purpose of the chaplaincy building and to give thanks for the vision of Fr Bengie Winterbourne SJ that brought the building into existence, the work of the chaplaincy was not simply about the care of the Catholic students of the universities and colleges.

"Certainly, that care is important but it must be allied with the urgency of living out our faith. Pope Francis has challenged us all, without exception, by reminding us that we are 'Missionary disciples' – both words have distinct but complementary meaning. By discipleship, we mean learning about the Lord, his actions and teaching, believing in Him and wanting to follow in his way. But the missionary dimension requires always us to demonstrate our faith to others."

Faithful

Bishop John said that the urgency of Pope Francis’ challenge was borne out in the Gospel passage read at the Mass, in which Jesus' disciples could not keep up with the urgency of His mission statement. "We see, increasingly, that the disciples in Mark’s Gospel fall behind. They do not understand the miracles, nor the parables. They prove to be shallow in their loyalty and all desert Jesus in His time of need. But, having chosen them, Jesus remains utterly faithful to them. That must be reassuring for us, too. We will surely make our mistakes and get things wrong but Jesus, having chosen us, will remain utterly faithful to us."

The Jesuits returned to the Chaplaincy in September 2012 after a 20-year absence and resumed full time ministry among the students with a team of four priests and one Jesuit brother. Since then, it has seen a great surge in energy and activity, with an extensive student outreach and volunteering programme, including soup runs for homeless people five nights per week. It is responsible for the first student-run Foodbank in the UK, in association with the Trussel Trust, which in its first year helped to feed over 1,700 people who had been referred by almost 100 different agencies. Students and friends have distributed over 13 tonnes of food, while also being able to 'signpost' people to other agencies, for advice on debt management, mother and toddlers groups, free cookery courses etc.

Students also fund and run a breakfast club for the Holy Name Primary School in Moss Side, an area of severe deprivation. 80% of the pupils now receive a good breakfast and equally important are student volunteers who are helping to raise the children's educational aspirations. The commitment to a local nursing home is equally impressive with a regular visiting programme and a series of inter-generational dinners.

In addressing the congregation of several hundred at Holy Name Church, Bishop John thanked the Society of Jesus and in particular for the work of the many chaplains who have ministered there over the past half a century. But he reminded them that the 50th anniversary celebration needed to be more than simply looking back with thanks and gratitude. "It needs to include the sense of looking forward and recognising that today, and each day, God presents us with opportunities to be missionary disciples," he said. "Are we watching and listening to those opportunities? Will we be sure to respond?"