Christmas Message from Bishop Paul Swarbrick, Roman Catholic Bishop, Diocese of Lancaster

Many years ago I served as a young priest at St Maria Goretti Parish in Ribbleton, Preston.

Every so often a couple of District Nurses called for their break, and we’d sit in the kitchen chatting.

They knew their area very well. They’d tell us about our parishioners who were sick and wanted the priest to call, others who could just do with a visit, others who needed Confession, (and why!!), and families who might be struggling to make ends met and could do with a bit of help. When I left the parish I lost touch with them.

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Years later, one of them got in touch while I was on leave from my work in Africa. Knowing they were both retired now, I asked her about her colleague. ‘Haven’t you heard?’ she said, ‘she’s in hospital, and had to have a leg amputated.’ ‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ I said, and then asked, ‘How has she coped with losing her leg?’ Without a hesitation she replied, ‘O, she’s taken it in her stride‘!

Picture by Jane Coltman

Covid has brought complications into people’s lives as well as very deep tragedy and fear. It has brought immense stress to some particular sections of the economy and work-force, and shows no

signs of going away just yet. But can we be expected to ‘take it in our stride’? Have we got what it takes to cope and find a way to just ‘gerron wi’ it!’ I believe we have. The trick is to know you don’t have to do it all alone. Christmas is just one time of the year when we look out for one another, the season of Good Will. Looking out for one another spreads the load a bit, and we all know it doesn’t take much to make a difference for the better.

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Each faith does it slightly differently, but they have many common elements. Learning about each other can be surprising as you see what we share. Kindness is universal! Seeing the good in strangers is definitely good news. When I was a kid growing up in Garstang we were warned not to talk to strangers. Of course that can be good advice for young children, but at some point we can risk it.

One of the things I loved about living in West Cumbria was the friendliness of people to complete strangers. Having said that, you couldn’t always understand what they’d said! (It took some time to learn what ‘Assa, Marrah’ meant.)

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God puts His child into our hands, and lets him walk our streets, and enter our homes. There’s got to be a lesson of hope in that. He may not immediately solve all our problems, but many times when you are stuck or down or just don’t know what to do, it makes all the difference when someone comes along and stops, and gives you time, and let’s you know you aren’t alone, and that you are worth bothering with, and next time they won’t be a stranger!

Happy Christmas, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your beliefs, and whatever’s going on in your bit of the planet just now. And for those of you who are interested, you are welcome to my blessing too!