The Bishop of Shrewsbury has opened the Shrine Church of Ss Peter and Paul and St Philomena in New Brighton, Wirral.
The Rt Rev. Mark Davies expressed his hope that the landmark domed building may serve as a “beacon of hope” for future generations if it turns their gaze towards Christ and assists a renewal of Eucharistic faith.
A congregation of 400 people had been expected but a crowd of nearly 1,100 turned up for the solemn High Latin Mass, with some of the faithful crowding the aisles and even spilling on to the forecourt outside.
The Celebrant at the grand opening Mass was Monsignor Gilles Wach, the founder of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the society of Apostolic life to which custody of the shrine has been entrusted by the Bishop of Shrewsbury as a place of Eucharistic devotion and celebration of the Sacraments in the Latin Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
Bishop Davies preached the homily, noting that “seafarers once recognised this church as a dome marking their safe arrival home”.
But he also said that Canon Olivier Meney, a French priest of the Institute and the rector of the shrine church (pictured above with Bishop Davies), has used another image: “a beacon of hope”.
Bishop Davies said: “Perhaps in this image we can recognise the new mission given to this church in a new and vibrant parish and amid the new needs of those who travel through the century before us.”
Pope Benedict had observed, the Bishop reminded the congregation, “ how ‘every great reform’ every authentic renewal of the Church’s life ‘has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among his people’.
“This is the prayer and intercession that I wish to especially entrust to this Shrine Church,” Bishop Davies said.
He added: “So today we do not simply wish to open the doors of a closed building but to be open in our hearts to what Blessed John Paul II called ‘Eucharistic amazement’.
“I was asked in a radio interview whether I saw myself as part of an old, traditional church or a dynamic, evangelising community. My interviewer saw these as distinct alternatives but to the Catholic mind the answer must always be both.
“We can only be a dynamic, evangelising community if we are rooted in the continuity of the Church’s faith and worship. And always at the heart and centre, always the source and the summit as the Second Vatican Council declared is … the mystery and reality of the Eucharist.
“We wish to recognise in this Shrine Church set high on the Wirral horizon not simply a landmark but a beacon announcing hope to passing generations. So above the mists of confusion which obscure our vision, the storms of controversy which unsettle us we may turn our gaze always towards Christ, loving and redeeming us, in the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Altar, He who lives and reigns for ever and ever.”
Pope Benedict XVI had offered a Papal Blessing with an attached Plenary Indulgence – for the remission of punishment due to forgiven sins – for all the faithful who attended the grand opening on March 24.
The church, which closed in 2008 amid rising repair and maintenance costs, is the first in Britain to be entrusted to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.
It is hoped that the foundation of the shrine church will ensure that the church building so dear to Catholics and other members of the local community is secured and continues to bear witness to the faith and mission of the Church in the Wirral and beyond.
(Photos: Simon Caldwell)