Having been chosen by Pope Benedict as Bishop of Argyll and Isles, his mandate for my Episcopal Ordination was read to those assembled in St Columbia’s Cathedral Oban on 8th December 2008 and I was duly ordained Bishop of the Diocese. It is right therefore for me personally to feel a special affection for Pope Benedict and recall with gratitude his part in my life and the communion in the Lord that linked me, and all bishops, so closely with our Holy Father and Brother Bishop.
Just over a year later, in February 2010, I had the privilege of meeting Pope Benedict in person during the Scottish Bishops’ Ad Limina Visit to Rome. Each of us got to speak with the Holy Father privately, and I recall these precious few minutes as the softly-spoken Pontiff asked me about the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. Of course his English was very fluent and the conversation quite relaxed. I remember he was particularly interested in Catholic Schools and the teaching of our faith in them. Later in his address to all of the Scottish Bishops after our private audiences he recalled that our Ad Limina Visit was taking place during the Year of the Priest and proposed St John Ogilvie as a courageous model for all Scottish Priests. He commended our work in promoting the on-going formation of priests and the promotion of Vocations to the priesthood and religious life. For Pope Benedict holiness of life, attained through a loving personal relationship with the Lord, was the essential element in the life of all the baptised – the lay faithful, religious and clergy.
Later in 2010 Pope Benedict made his State Visit to UK, beginning with the meeting with the Queen in Edinburgh on the morning of 16th September. That afternoon he celebrated Mass with the Catholics of Scotland at Bellahouston and he recalled with emotion that his predecessor, St John Paul II, had also celebrated Mass in the Park on 2nd June 1982, with 250,000 present. Pope Benedict spoke of the long Christian tradition in Scotland, the witness of our Scottish saints, and the call to us all to live holy lives in our own time, in order to keep the flame of faith alive in our land. As a Scottish Bishop it was a privilege to be with Pope Benedict that day and to concelebrate Mass with him, and then to accompany him on the rest of his Visit over the next few days in London and Birmingham. Again the Concelebrated Masses in Westminster Cathedral and in Birmingham for the Beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman hold a special memory for me, particularly the strong sense of the communion of all the bishops with the Bishop of Rome in the service of the Lord and his Church. My particular memory of what Pope Benedict said during his time among us was again his emphasis on the call to holiness, and especially his inspiring words to the young people of the Church – “Be the Saints of the 21st Century”. Indeed the Pope’s encouraging words to the young, and his appeal to them, were an important part of the visit. The good number of Vocations to the Priesthood in recent years in the Diocese of Motherwell may be a fruit of the Pope’s presence and clear teaching.
A month after Pope Benedict’s Visit, in October 2010, I was privileged to accompany the Scottish pilgrims to Rome for the Canonisation of the St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, the First Australian to be canonised. Those of us from the Highlands are particularly proud of her Scottish connections and it was wonderful to be at Mass with Pope Benedict when he proclaimed Mary a saint of the Church. Once again it was very special for me as a Scottish Bishop with a family connection to St Mary MacKillop to be invited to be one of the concelebrants at the Mass of Canonisation. Again at this Mass Pope Benedict spoke of the power and beauty of holiness as exemplified in the lives of St Mary MacKillop and the others being canonised, and highlighted her vocation as an outstanding teacher, especially of poor and disadvantaged children.
The call to us all to live holy lives, and so grow and remain in deep friendship with the Lord, and by doing so to give faithful witness to Him, was always at the heart of Pope Benedict’s preaching. He himself was a good teacher and his legacy of that teaching and his clarity of vision are an outstanding treasure he has left to the church to be pondered upon and valued by coming generations.
May he now share, along with Mary, Joseph, and all the Saints, through the Lord’s resurrection, in the fullness of God’s life in heaven, in which he firmly believed and placed all his hope. May he rest in peace.
Bishop of Motherwell
Photo: The Bishops of Scotland, including Bishop Joseph Toal and Bishop Joseph Devine RIP, with Pope Benedict XVI during the Ad Limina Visit in 2010. Photo by Paul McSherry.