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Saluting our modern-day martyrs: dare we too confess our faith?​

Friday 5th June 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Saluting our modern-day martyrs: dare we too confess our faith?

Stefan Kaminski

While we remain locked in debate over Covid-19 statistics, social distancing and lockdown measures, it’s a good time to remember that many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world have more immediate concerns: they are (readily) putting their very lives at risk by professing and practicing their faith.

On 8th January, four young Catholic seminarians were kidnapped from the Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria, by gunmen. Kaduna is not a small shanty town: it is the capital of Kaduna state with a population of well over three-quarters of a million, and is a busy trade and transportation hub. The seminary is located on a main highway, and houses around 270 young men.

But in January it was raided by a kidnap gang disguised as soldiers, led by Mustapha Mohammed. Their intention was to use the hostages for ransom. In the weeks following the raid, they released three of the seminarians, aged between 19 and 23, in exchange for $25,000. Michael Nnadi, 18 years old, was never released.

Speaking to Nigeria’s Daily Sun newspaper after his arrest, Mustapha said that he was not able to have any peace from the moment they took the young men, because Michael “continued preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to him”. The seminarian “told him to his face to change his evil ways” or risk eternal life. In the end, Mustapha decided “to send him to an early grave” as he did not like the young man’s confidence. 

Michael Nnadi, 18-year old seminarian killed for preaching Jesus Christ. ‘He continued preaching the gospel’ to his kidnappers, telling their leader ‘to his face to change his evil ways.’ The leader decided ‘to send him to an early grave’ as he did not like the young man’s confidence.

Michael Nnadi’s bold witness shines among many such martyrs. Only 10 days later, Lawan Andimi, a member of the Christian Associationof Nigeria, was decapitated.

Today, some 120 other Christians remain hostage in the hands of Boko Haram; among them are many young women such as Leah Sharibuand Grace Taku, who refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. All these are part of a worsening and systemic attack on Christians, whose villages are attacked, farms set ablaze, adults kidnapped and killed, and women taken as sex slaves.

The Nigerian archbishops have repeatedly appealed to the country’s government for collaboration andprotection, but many Christians have accused the state of ignoringthe reality of Christian persecution.

Despite the assurances given, they point to the inconsistent protection offered by security forces and the consistently late responses to such incidents.

A woman prays against the shut door of Westminister Cathedral on Easter Sunday. Such public demonstrations of faith when lockdown allows will be a powerful witness to the continued importance of religion in modern life

Hopefully, the thought that such atrocities are not being challenged and responded to effectively fills us with horror. Equally hopefully, the fact that men and women just like ourselves are dying gruesomedeaths because they practice their Christian faith moves us to some desire for solidarity with them.

Meanwhile, we are no doubt thankful that such persecution does not take place in our liberal and tolerant Western society. However, thegrowing challenges to Western governments over their own discrimination against religious practice in their responses to Covid-19 should tell us that we are not entirely immune either.

Last month, several Catholic groups successfully appealed to the French Council of State, which ruled that the government’s ban on gatherings at places of worship was ‘disproportionate’ and ‘seriously and manifestly illegal’. A number of states in the USA have seen legal challenges against their closure of churches and bans on religious gatherings, with, most recently, the governor of Virginia facing two lawsuits over this issue.

Our own government sidelined public religious expression by declaring it as ‘non-essential’ at the beginning of the lockdown. The assignment of churches to an importance lower than garden centres can hardly, therefore, inspire great confidence in the public perception of the place of religious freedom. More to the point, if such a freedom is not seen to be demanded and practised, its fundamental importance will stop being appreciated.

A number of public figures have now stepped up to question this state of affairs. Edward Leigh MP pointed out on Twitter not long ago: ‘If MPs can socially distance in Parliament, why can’t people socially distance for private prayer inchurches?’

Two weeks ago, a letter was sent to Catholic Bishops, as well as to Robert Jendrick (Secretary of Statefor Housing, Communities and Local Governance), requesting the re-opening of churches, and signed by 19 peers, politicians and other notable Catholics. Another letter went to Boris Johnson this week signed by 20 MPs, requesting the same. And in a recent interview on BBC Radio 4, Cardinal Nichols asked the government for “a bit more sensitivity” to people’s spiritual needs.

As Pentecost approaches and we once again pray for the same courage that the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostles in those early, turbulent times, it is perhaps an opportunity to make our own stand for our faith. It would be a fitting act of solidarity with Michael Nnadi, and the many other men and women, young and old, who are suffering brutal treatment and death, to make our own faith public, in however small a way.

Until such a time as our churches are reopened, the first thing that can be done is to write to local MPs and/or to Robert Jendrick. It need not be a long email, but simple enough to register the fact that as Christians, our faith is of fundamental importance to us; and as Catholics, it is essential to be able to access our churches and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Besides this, a group of young Catholics, led by Anton’ de Piro (a trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre) has set up the website This allows Catholics to register their name, contact details, diocese and parish in order to help manage the safe re-opening of churches. Volunteer details will be passed directly to the relevant diocese or parish, and will provide priests with the necessary help for to reopen their churches.

Lastly, but most importantly: when our churches do reopen, it is imperative that those Catholics who are able to do so safely provide a public witness to our faith. If every able-bodied and healthy Catholic in the country made the point of making a visit to their parish church once during the working week, the steady stream – even trickle – of visitors would make for a very visible statement.

It is an opportunity not simply for outward effect, but also for the deepening and renewal of one’s interior life.

The small efforts and sacrifices we make are always observed by theGood Lord, who repays with His grace in His own way and time.

After the period of absence we have suffered from the Eucharistic Lord, what better way to mark the season of Pentecost – the era of the Church – by going out of our way to witness to the Lord, in solidarity with our martyred brethren?

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of the Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst.

Christians in Kwara stateprotest in February against thecurrent persecution
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Easter Saints: Anselm and the faith that seeks understanding

Friday 1st May 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Easter Saints: Anselm and the faith that seeks understanding

Stefan Kaminski

St Anselm, together with St George, offers a clear model for a pragmatic faith during the difficulties of lockdown.

This last week has seen the feast day of two ‘English’ saints, one perhaps more recognised than the other: St George on the 23rd April, and St Anselm of Canterbury on the 21st April. 

Apart from their faith, what they do have in common is that neither, despite being associated with England, was English! While St George was born in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), St Anselm hailed from Aosta in northern Italy. 

Both are fitting saints for Eastertide, however. The story of St George requires no retelling, but his emblem – the red cross – is a reference to Christ’s saving death, to which he joined his own martyrdom at the hands of the Emperor Diocletian in the year 303. The dragon he fought is most commonly taken as a symbol of his conquest of the devil, by means of his faith and fortitude.

St Anselm is a somewhat contrasting figure to the Roman soldier, but no less staunch and heroic in a different age and place. Born in 1033 or ’34, he came to England via the Benedictine monastery of Bec, in Normandy. While a monk at Bec he quickly gained a reputation for his great intellect and profound spiritu-ality, thus also further increasing the monastery’s already-established reputation as a centre of learning. 

In 1078 he was elected as Abbot of Bec and it was this that first brought Anselm to England. William the Conqueror had previously granted lands both in Normandy as well as in Canterbury to the Bec monastery; as the Abbot, Anselm was required to visit these lands on certain occasions.

By the time the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1089, William had been dead two years and had been succeeded by his son, William Rufus. The younger William was a tyrant, who had only just been kept in check by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury. Once his grasping nature took hold, however, injustices flowed. 

A portrait of St Anslem in the Church of St Anslem in Bomarzo, Italy

Among these, he kept deferring his permission for the replacement of the various vacant bishoprics while he seized their revenues year on year, and left dependent communities in near-poverty. It was only when he became violently sick and seemed to be on his deathbed that he returned briefly to his conscience, fearing for his eternal salvation. From this state he not only settled outstanding debts, granted pardons and fed prisoners, but he also nominated the widely-esteemed Anselm as Bishop of Canterbury. 

The reluctant Anselm accepted the position, but used every occasion and means to try to both reconcile the King with Rome and reform the Church in England. (William Rufus’ momentary penitence had quickly disappeared as he regained health.) Anselm’s continual struggle against the king’s injustices, his rampant passions and his manipulation and censoring of the Church eventually forced Anselm to leave the country to seek the Pope’s support. 

St Anslem

At a council with Pope Urban II, at which the situation in England was also discussed, Anselm yet again demonstrated his Christian compassion. The Pope was about to excommunicate William Rufus on the advice of the council, when Anselm threw himself at the Pope’s feet and begged for mercy for his nemesis. The excommunication was delayed. In the end, however, William died suddenly during a hunting accident before Anselm could return to England or reconcile him fully with the Church – something that caused the saint great bitterness.

Anselm’s nobility of soul and character can be understood both by his contemplative detachment from this world and through his motto, ‘Faith seeking understanding’. His greatest pleasure was in contemplating God, and every object served the purpose of raising Anselm’s mind to his Creator. 

His motto, while easily misunderstood, is eloquent in its simplicity: faith, for Anselm, is neither a blind belief nor even primarily an act of the intellect or mind. Faith consists in the action of our will: a movement of love that comes from the heart, and an active desire to do God’s will. Such a faith “seeks understanding”, in that it wants to know God more deeply. In other words, faith is first of all a state of desire or a willing, rather than a state of thought, or of the mind. 

This Easter has perhaps been a particularly challenging and opportune moment for assessing our own faith. In a sense, the best measure of this has been the extent to which we missed the liturgy and the Sacraments, for it is indeed through the Sacraments that the Resurrection of Christ touches us and that the graces are given to transform us into a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). 

Equally, without being able to actually participate in the Church’s liturgies, we have had to rely more so on our own motivation – on our faith – to engage with the Easter mystery.

The lockdown is making life harder for many (if not most), particularly by challenging our internal resources. It is, however, an opportunity to grow in faith. Both St George and St Anselm are strong characters of faith because their lives were built by fixating their hearts on God, and everything else was motivated by that.

This locked-down Eastertide, the one thousand, nine hundred and eighty-seventh Easter in human history, is an opportunity to delve more deeply into our hearts, to discover and nourish a greater capacity for loving the God who gave His life for us.

Prayer of St Anselm

I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving, that you have made me in your image, so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you. 

But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults, and darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do that for which it was made, unless you renew and refashion it. 

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height, for my understanding is in no way equal to that, but I do desire to understand a little of your truth which my heart already believes and loves. 

I do not seek to understand so that I can believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of the Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst.

The death of William Rufus
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Covid-19 crisis from the perspective of providence: A call to creative love

Friday 3rd April 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Covid-19 crisis from the perspective of providence: A call to creative love

Fr José Granados

In these days of Lent, we re-read the story of Israel’s departure from Egypt, when God delivered them from the scourge of plagues. 

The scene is poignantly brought to life by the epidemic that we are experiencing at the moment. It reminds us that God is no stranger to anything that happens to us. “My times are in your hands”, says the psalmist (Ps 31:15). 

Whoever lives the totality of their life according to faith in the Creator, must also live the Covid-19 crisis according to faith in the Creator.

Why the virus? What are its causes and effects? The biologist and the doctor can tell us something about these, as can the psychologist and the economist. But only faith offers the ultimate horizon that unifies these partial perspectives. The believer does not have all the answers, but knows who does. He knows Him and knows how to invoke Him, to help him live this hour with meaning. Believing in God means that our “why?” can be transformed into “what for?”

“In the programme of the kingdom of God”, St John Paul II said, “suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour” (Salvifici Doloris 30). 

The suffering caused by the virus is also present in order to revive love in ourselves. It is towards this love that providence leads all things. So, whoever believes in providence does not respond with negligence or irresponsibility, but with the intelligence of love.

Jordaens’ 'The Good Samaritan'

We discover how precious are our relationships, which are lived out in the body. This is why this virus is a threat to our communal life. This is why we are afraid to be together, to work together, and why we isolate ourselves. Thus, the virus wounds us at the heart of our humanity, which consists of the call to communion. 

At the same time, we understand the greatness of the good that is threatened. For we experience that we have no life if it is not life together; that we cannot flourish as solitary individuals, but only as members of a family, school, neighbourhood. The virus unmasks the lie of individualism and testifies to the beauty of the common good.

The reawakening to love continues, secondly, because we suffer as our own the suffering and anguish of others. Pain unites us. In a certain sense, we have all been infected by the virus because our community, our city, our nation has been infected. Hard times are on the way for many families, for the elderly, for the most vulnerable, but these sufferings will have the effect of increasing amongst us the works of love carried out for others. The difficulties of having physical contact will require an intelligent love, which will invent new ways of being present. Technology will help us to express that closeness and that affective support which, far from spreading the virus, vaccinates us against it. 

Reawakening to love will also, and thirdly, consist of the discovery of new ways of working together. For the pain of the virus, in addition to that caused by the physical disease, will be the pain of anxiety, of not knowing what to expect or how to get on with the thousand things of everyday life, and the fatigue of remaking plans and of enduring the waiting. An intelligent and creative love will be that of teachers who do not interrupt their educational work and their support for their students; that of parents who create tasks  and games for their children; that of pastors who continue to bring food to their faithful; that of families who inspire and share their creativity with other families.

Finally, this creativity of love will help us discover that love has an inexhaustible source. And so, fourthly, our suffering will reawaken us to love if we turn our gaze to God, who is the source and channel of all love.

The forced isolation caused by the virus is an opportunity for us to delve more deeply into the big question, the “why?”, that lies behind everything. 

The virus, in threatening the life-giving air that we breathe and the presence of those we love, invites us to ask ourselves about the ultimate secret of this very life and love. What is its origin and destiny? This question will lead us to discover the face of

“Let us remember, therefore, that the grace of God continues to act, even when we cannot receive Communion. For at every Mass that a priest says, even if he is alone, we will all be present and God’s grace will touch us. “

the God who wanted to respond to suffering, not with a theory, but with a presence: His suffering with us. For He became flesh, taking on our suffering in order to heal it; and, in the Sacraments of His Body and Blood, He gave us the gift of health.

It is precisely at this time that access to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, has become difficult. Let us remember, therefore, that the grace of God continues to act, even when we cannot receive Communion. For at every Mass that a priest says, even if he is alone, we will all be present and God’s grace will touch us. Faith in providence will arouse an intelligent love so that the Eucharist continues to be present in our lives. 

We will be able to strengthen our communal prayer, our reading aloud of the Word of God, our family recitation of Sunday Lauds or Ves-pers, our invocation of Mary in the Rosary…

It has already become clear that many will have to live this Lent fast-ing from the Eucharist. If, however, this awakens in us a love for the liv-ing Bread that comes from Heaven, if it teaches us that we cannot live when deprived of the Eucharist – the medicine of immortality – then this fast will have a saving effect. For in the Eucharist is the resurrected Body of Christ: immune to any virus, and inexhaustible source of our common life. Thus, the threat of the virus will awaken in us not only a concrete love for those who suffer, but a hope for the Love that never ends. The psalmist’s plea will sound anew: “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, because you have the Lord for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold” (Ps 91:5-6:9).

Nothing escapes the providence of God, and God relies on our prudence (which is the intelligence of love) to face the epidemic, supporting each other in a generous and creative fashion.

Fr José Granados is the Superior General of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

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Henry’s Reformation: England’s defining moment?

Friday 6th March 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Henry’s Reformation stands as the key moment in England’s history

Adam Coates

Every country can point to some event within its past which has played a role in defining the nature of that country, both historically and to the present day. A French person would likely point to the French Revolution in 1789, a German to the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945, a Russian to the arrival of Communism. However, to what might an Englishman point? 

The events of the Second World War are surely an important one. The Civil War in the 17th century is another. A common one that would be brought up, a date seared into the mind of nearly every English person, is the Norman Conquest of 1066.

However, despite all of these, one event which arguably stands above them all is the English Reformation. Beginning, initially, as a political dispute, theological conflicts were brought to the fore with a series of Acts of Parliament, including the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which placed the English Church in Schism. The aforementioned 1534 Act formally declared the King, Henry VIII, as Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England’.  

This was followed by Henry’s son, Edward, coming to the throne and pushing a more explicitly theologically and liturgically Protestant line. The early death of Edward saw the succession of his half-sister Mary. Her five-year reign reversed her brother’s religious reforms and her father’s schism. However, Mary’s efforts were in vain as she was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth who again took the English Church from under the umbrella of Rome, though choosing a theological via media between continental Protestantism and Catholicism. 

Why is this series of events arguably the most important in English history? While it is fun to engage in counterfactual history, wondering what may have happened had the religious changes of the 16th century never taken place, this is not a proper historical task. These religious changes are important, not because of what we can imagine in their absence, but because of what religion is in a human society. The 20th century historian Christopher Dawson, whom TS Eliot described as “the most powerful intellectual influence in England”, was interested in the study of civilisations.

The towering presence of Henry VIII looms large over English history in this portrait by Holbein. Inset, the poetry of Robert Southwell provided spiritual nourishment for the faithful at home

The questions of how and why they rise and fall led to a lifetime of research and writing, producing numerous books, articles and lectures. The great conclusion of Dawson’s works was that religion is one of the key and consistent driving forces of civilisation throughout history. It therefore stands to reason that an event such as the Reformation, where the religious fabric of the country was fundamentally altered from top to bottom, would be of primary importance. 

One might reasonably argue that the traditional English stiff upper lip is a result of the more restrained Protestant approach to worship when compared with the rich ceremonies of the Mass. Charles Darwin observed that “Englishmen rarely cry […]; whereas in some parts of the Continent the men shed tears much more readily and freely”. G. K. Chesterton would write that ‘those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground’. The implication is clear; there are cultural differences between Protestant England and the Catholic countries of continental Europe that are the result of religious doctrine and practice. Even though these countries are quickly shedding their religion, those cultural differences remain

Religious changes brought about mass cultural changes. The religious houses of England were supressed in what the historian Professor George W. Bernard has described as “one of the most revolutionary events in English history”. 

The dotted remains of ruined abbeys and priories, their stone remains jutting from the ground like the bones of a long extinct beast, are eloquent testimony to the radical change of the suppression. These religious reforms, naturally, affected everyone. Some, such as those in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, responded by open rebellion. Others secretly kept their Catholicism while attending Anglican services. Some refused to attend Anglican services and practised their Catholicism secretly. 

A consistent desire among wealthy Catholic families who continued in their Catholicism was that of seeing their children educated as Catholics. Stonyhurst College, on whose estate the Christian Heritage Centre has its home, is one such school. Beginning life at Saint-Omer in 1593, it provided a Catholic education for English boys in the then Spanish Netherlands. Within centres like this, a distinctly Catholic and English culture could remain and, indeed, flourish in relative safety behind the barrier of the English Channel. These sanctuaries were to produce saints and martyrs who were to die in England for preaching the Catholic faith. 

One such figure, Robert Southwell, a product of the English College at Douai, was to provide spiritual nourishment for the faithful at home. One way he did this was through his corpus of poetry. One poem, New Heaven, New War, speaks of the coming of Christ at Christmas. God invades the Devil’s abode to defeat him: ‘This little Babe so few days old, Is come to rifle Satan’s fold; All hell doth at his presence quake, Though he himself for cold do shake; For in this weak, unarmed wise, The gates of hell he will surprise’.

God, in having taken on flesh, will defeat Satan. 

Verse such as this must have been a great comfort to English Catholics who thought themselves once again in ‘Satan’s fold’; Christ’s victory against these powers is inevitable. 

It is precisely on this topic that the Christian Heritage Centre will be hosting an academic conference on Saturday, 28th of March. Led by Professors Peter Davidson and Gerard Kilroy, the conference will examine the cultural interactions between Protestant England and the Catholic part of Europe. 

St Robert’s poetry, such as that quoted above, represented a vibrant Catholic and English culture in exile that sort to provide comfort to those at home. The conference will be providing a fresh look at these cultural contributions that demonstrate, despite its persecution, a vibrant, living body of faith. 

Adam Coates is the Educational Assistant, The Christian Heritage Centre

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A change of Christian climate, and its deniers

Friday 7th February 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

A change of Christian climate, and its deniers

Stefan Kaminski

That there is a change in the Earth’s climate is an undisputable fact. The significance of that change is debated by some. Others label these people as ‘climate change deniers’. However, there has also been a different sort of ‘climate change’ going on for a while, which also has its own set of rather vocal deniers.

In last month’s article on Christian heritage, Sr Emanuela Edwards wrote eloquently of the significance of the Magi’s journey. She noted their wisdom and courage in recognising and following the star, which guided them to the full revelation of the Incarnate God. 

Her article was a call to Christians today to offer such a “guiding star” to the people of our own times by their witness to the faith. The particular need for visible ‘stars’ in contemporary society was already present in St Pope Paul VI’s time: she noted that he had already identified a “rupture between the Gospel and culture as the drama of our time”. 

Christianity has provided the general ‘climate’ for European culture for the best part of the last two millennia. It has shaped the greatest thinkers, writers, artists and scientists who stand unchallenged at the pinnacle of what Europe has to offer. From Augustine to John Paul II, from Agnelli to Pugin, from Albertus Magnus to George Lemaître: they were all formed by a certain worldview, which has gradually been divorced and discarded by modern thinking. 

That worldview, which the scholastic thinking of the Medieval period had elaborated and expressed so clearly, understood the entire cosmos as being in an inherent relationship to God. Creation is not seen merely as a onetime, distant event somehow linked to God, who is then subsequently written out of everything that happens since; creation is a continual act of holding everything in being, intentionally guiding every development in the cosmos, however random these may appear to us.

The Gothic masterpiece of Amiens Cathedral

 Frank Sheed (of Sheed & Ward publishers), described it as “nothingness worked upon by omnipotence”. Deliciously succinct, this phrase captures the two essential facts about our world, from a Christian point of view: it would not exist if God did not will it; it only continues to exist because God continues to will it.

This is the perspective that underwrote our Western culture, providing direction and impetus for both the sciences and the arts. The meeting of faith and culture was not simply a convenient intertwining of two parallel strands: culture was shaped by faith. Nonetheless, many academics today insist on minimising, if not altogether setting aside, the religious dynamic when delving into the minds of those cultural icons whom we all admire. A bit like today’s climate change deniers (but in reverse), they attempt to write the significance of a previous, Christian climate out of the textbooks. 

One such icon whose Christian adherence and life is frequently downplayed is the Victorian polymath, John Ruskin. He was the subject of our first evening talk of the year at The Christian Heritage Centre. Professor Keith Hanley, of Lancaster University, offered a fascinating insight into John Ruskin’s Travels on the Continent, providing us with a view of European art through this particular set of English eyes. Brought up as a devout evangelical, Ruskin had clear ideas of what defined good landscape painting. As the epigraph to his five-volume series on modern landscape painting stated, ‘Nature presented the laws behind God’s creation for mankind. Landscapes, therefore, were worthy insofar as they revealed the truth, the beauty and the intelligence of God’s creation.’

John Ruskin

In Ruskin’s opinion, the realism of William Turner was the epitome of this artistic form, which formed the comfortable confines of Ruskin’s artistic world for his early years. 

But Ruskin’s first solo trip to Italy changed all that. There, he was confronted – and indeed, “utterly crushed”, as he put it – by the revelation of the full ‘Art of Man’. His initial encounter with Jacopo Tintoretto’s work in the School of St Roch, and in particular with Tintoretto’s Crucifixion, opened his eyes to the world of “theological symbolism of the entire Christian scheme of redemption”, as Prof Hanley expressed it. Thereafter, while his views continued to evolve, they were marked by a new and lively sensibility to the transcendent world, which informed and brought a whole new significance to the material order. 

Indeed, his very last work, on the Gothic cathedral of Amiens, recognised the full drama of the medieval worldview that is so wonderfully expressed in the cathedral’s West Front: the interconnectedness of everything, from the lowliest elements of creation to the highest personages in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in a single, allembracing path to Christ.

Our next evening talk at The Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst will pick up another figure who has been recently “rediscovered” and again often remoulded to the post-Christian thinking of today: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. His realism, often considered in purely psychologically terms, has even led some to consider him a 20th century painter in spirit. Yet his genius is firmly grounded in the dynamism between the spiritual and earthly worlds, and his ability to communicate this. 

Providing a “guiding star” to the one true Creator and Redeemer of the world in today’s society also requires being able to point to and reclaim the fruits that have been borne by our faith over the course of its history. 

There are plenty of voices ready to point out the apparent defects of Christianity and the problems they claim it has caused; we need more voices that can speak eloquently of the truth and beauty that Christianity has engendered over the centuries in our Western culture.

 Stefan Kaminski is the Director of the Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst.

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A light shines forth from the Ribble Valley

Friday 10th January 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

A light shines forth from the Ribble Valley

Sr Emanuela Edwards

High in the apse of St Mary Majors Basilica in Rome is an ancient mosaic from the 12th Century by the Franciscan artist Jacopo Torriti, which represents the story of the three kings or the Epiphany of the Lord. 

The three kings, in order of age, bear their gifts to the Christ child, who wears the robes of a victorious king. Above Christ’s head shines the star of David, which denotes his identity and has guided the king’s path to him. 

The Epiphany is a cause for great joy because it signifies when Christ was manifested to the Gentiles as God. The three kings, led by the star, have made the long journey from the East and now kneel in adoration as they recognise the fact that God has become Man in this Child.

The story of the three kings has much to say to us about the importance of Christian witness in the world in which we live. St Pope Paul VI spoke of a, “rupture between the Gospel and culture as the drama of our time.” Therefore, it is important to learn how to make the Christian faith more apparent in modern culture, such that it becomes a ‘star’ that guides people towards God.

The exquisite mosaic by Jacopo Torriti, which represents the story of the three kings.

At the time of Our Lord, many, like the astrologers and wise men, looked to the stars for signs. Almost everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, was seeking ‘the One who would come’. It is interesting to ponder how many wise men saw that ‘special star’ but lacked the wisdom or courage to follow it. From the scriptures we know only of the wise men from the East, three by tradition. Their interest in that star was inspired by the fact that it indicated the birth of a king and this set them on a journey. These three wise men were able to ‘read the stars’ and were brave enough to go in search of God. In the end, their search was rewarded with a meeting with God that changed the whole direction of their lives. With their lives totally changed by the experience and the gift of faith they received, the kings returned home via a ‘different way’.

Our Christian traditions, history and religious celebrations act as bright stars in a darkening world to remind everyone that God exists and is present. The stars in the night sky have special properties as they cannot be blocked out. They remain there however dark it gets, to light the way or to guide all those who choose to follow them. As we see a crucifix in a school or a Church building, the statues or works of religious art, they all somehow speak silently of the existence of God who came to earth. To those without faith, they act as a way of indicating the fact that God exists and encourages them, like the kings, to ask the great question of life. 

To those with the faith, they draw our minds to God encouraging us to engage in a loving dialogue with Him.

St Mary Majors Basilica in Rome

Just as the wise men were attracted by the new star, it is important for Christians to interact with all that is new in society so that it can be transformed to testify to Christ. The internet, mobile phones and social media must be filled with the Gospel message to speak of God from within our modern culture. 

As people look down into the stupefying maze of content on their phones, they should find something of God that encourages them perhaps to look up. Only then can we see the light that comes from faith which can lead us, just like the kings, to find God.

St Pope John Paul II said that, “Christianity is a creator of culture in its very foundation” and so faith must lead to visible signs and tangible actions in the world in which we live to change it for the better. The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst exists to be like a star to attract those who, like the kings, search for God. It seeks to be a light that shines forth from the Ribble Valley to speak in new and exciting ways of the wonderful Christian story and to help make new roots in today’s modern culture.

God Bless Us
And the Virgin Protect Us

 Sr Emanuela Edwards MDR is a member of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation. The Missionaries of Divine Revelation are the official guides for the Vatican Museums delivering the tours of ‘Art and Faith’ that can be booked online at the Museum’s website.

She can be contacted via:, with more information via

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Leo XIII’s historic encyclical offers own solutions to today’s problems​

Friday 6th December 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Leo XIII's historic encyclical offers own solutions to today's problems

Br Samuel Burke, OP

In his eponymous encyclical of 1891, responding to the societal upheaval and profound economic changes of the industrial revolution, Pope Leo XIII prophetically addressed ‘Rerum novarum’ – those “new things”, new challenges which confronted the world, particularly concerning capital and labour. 

Advancing a biting critique of the dire conditions of the working class while strongly upholding the importance of private property, in terms neither socialist nor capitalist, the Pope proposed an authentically Christian synthesis. His prophetic message stood in opposition to an apathetic ‘business as usual’ approach on the one hand and calls for revolution on the other. 

Leo found some things to be abundantly clear: immoral behaviour by owners, the appeal by social movements to workers’ greed and envy, failure by political leaders to satisfactorily address the issues, and violent and otherwise immoral actions by some workers. 

He proceeded to condemn these actions all as violations of justice. Prophetic though his message was, it wasn’t exactly new. When Pope Leo emphasised the imperatives of social justice, for example – “once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest that one owns belongs to the poor” – he was merely following a principle found in the works of his intellectual hero, St Thomas Aquinas.

Pope Leo XIII depicted in official Vatican portrait

St Thomas taught several centuries earlier that private property was a good thing but that it should be put at the service of the common good. The novelty of Rerum Novarum lies in Pope Leo’s application of long-standing principles to new realities. More than many modern politicians and trade unionists would credit, the many improvements in industrial relations made since its publication owe a significant debt to Rerum Novarum and the subsequent corpus of social encyclicals in which at least four cornerstone principles can be identified: common good, human dignity, subsidiarity, and solidarity. They inspired individuals, collectives, corporations and government policies the world over.

This historical observation provides no grounds for complacency, still less triumphalism, today. When it comes to knowledge of Catholic social teaching (CST), the shocking reality is one of pervasive ignorance. Generations of Catholics, especially young Catholics, have at best the vaguest awareness of this great treasury of Catholic wisdom. I’ve lost count of the number of people who remark that the Church’s social teaching is the best kept secret! And although there are some insightful thinkers who draw upon CST such as Maurice Glasman, Philip Blond, and Adrian Papst, the general rule among otherwise informed policy-makers of all political stripes is one of woeful illiteracy.

This is all the more lamentable because of the urgent challenges we face in society. In our own times, across the developed and developing world, many of the same challenges from the late 19th century remain with us in new forms. One thinks of the banking crisis, human  trafficking and other scourges. And beyond these continuing challenges, the present age is confronted by new crises, threats and obstacles. The list is hauntingly familiar: the destruction of human life in the womb, illness and old age; climate change; challenges to the family; nuclear weapons; de-industrialisation, etc. Indeed, if Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum was a response to the industrial revolution, we might now reflect upon how to respond to a certain revolution of de-industrialisation. 

Tackling social and economic issues, the Church typically takes the middle ground. On the one hand its teaching is sensitive to the role that markets can play in fostering initiative and innovation, creating jobs, and lifting people out of poverty. Equally, it is not blind to the damage that market activity can cause and the structures of power that preclude proper participation. Economic liberty, like political liberty, in other words, can both foster and undermine the common good. Both liberties must be defended but used responsibly.

Only last week, Pope Francis restated the Church’s trenchant stance against calamitous nuclear  weapons. He said: “The use of nuclear weapons is immoral, which is why it must be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Not only their use, but also possessing them: because an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity.”

These prophetic calls need to be understood fully, and therefore to be read not in isolation but in the context of the sources from which they emanate: the Gospel and the demands of justice. CST is at once and the same time prophetic and responsible; idealistic and realistic; theological and political. For all the noble words the documents contain, they cry out to be put into concrete action. They guard against a fatalism that only confirms the drift of events towards greater tragedy. 

This involves hard choices for families and governments about how we are to live together. This is the great thing about social encyclicals: they explain how Revelation  and principles of natural law can be lived out and the impetus for doing so.

As a cornerstone of its mission, the Christian Heritage Centre seeks to form Christian leaders schooled in both the texts of the social encyclicals – classics of applied theology and political philosophy – as well as the principles of which underpin them, so as to better tackle old challenges and new in the public square. In pursuit of this mission, next month the CHC will convene an international colloquium in Rome for young people engaged in political life to read, discuss and work out how to apply Catholic social teaching in their own countries. 

Amidst the wonders of the Eternal City and close to the heart of the Church, we will analyse the ‘new things’ of our present age: issues like artificial intelligence, the rise of populism, and human trafficking. 

For a few special days, we will immerse our minds in this rich intellectual tradition while nourishing our souls with prayer and fellowship.

The result, we hope, will be a solid formation which seeks to unlock the unnecessary secrets of CST, and thereby to sow the seeds today for noble Christian action tomorrow.

Br Samuel Burke, O.P. is a Dominican friar and deacon, and chaplain to the University of Edinburgh.

The Church is sensitive to the role that free markets can play in fostering initiative and innovation, creating jobs, and lifting people out of poverty… but it is not blind to the damage that market activity can cause and the structures of power that preclude proper participation. 

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Christians must fight against post-modernism

Friday 1st November 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Christians must fight against post-modernism

Stefan Kaminski

Faith and reason: ‘the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth’

Michael Dopp speaking at the Christian Heritage Centre on 1st October

The well-known line reproduced above comes from Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio. It presents a powerful, and no doubt provocative, challenge to today’s society. Many would scorn such a statement. Indeed, perhaps a surprising number of Catholics might also raise their eyebrows. Surely, the ingenuity and the progress of the human spirit are only thanks to our intellectual capacity? 

The Enlightenment philosophers certainly thought that faith and doctrine no longer had a place in the rational, modern world order. As a result, faith became distanced from reason in the public forum and increasingly privatised. 

The gradual effect of this public separation of faith and reason for the individual is a loss of the sense of the relationship between their own intellect and God. The spiritual life, then, all too easily becomes reduced to a matter of the emotions only. The danger of undernourishing our intellect in the matter of faith is that the reception of the sacraments become mere ritual and prayer takes on a certain tedious repetitiveness. In the meantime, the intellect is left to hold on to certain basic ideas it believes to be true, without ever developing these or integrating them more fully into the spiritual life.

Today, however, not only has the search for truth cast off any reference to faith, but truth itself is questioned: our deconstructed, post-modern age denies the validity of any universal truths. 

“Post-modernism” does not merely reject faith and doctrine, it also rejects the existence of objective truth that is accessible to our reason. As a result, we live in an age where opinions and feelings are the only measure of the human spirit, where tolerance is the highest social virtue, and where morality is a purely subjective matter.

A stained glass of the Baptism of Our Lord, when Jesus is publicly revealed as the Son by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Originally from St Malachy’s Church, Toxteth, Liverpool, closed in 2001. Now at the Christian Heritage Centre.

The resulting challenge facing the Catholic who wishes to live out the faith coherently in today’s world has multiplied. Today’s Catholic does not simply need to justify his faith: today’s Catholic must also justify his reason. It is no longer enough to say, “I believe in God”. It is no longer even enough to explain why one believes in God. It is now also necessary to articulate why any sort of belief can be at all considered true in the first place. 

Recently, the Christian Heritage Centre hosted Michael Dopp, a well-known Canadian speaker on the New Evangelisation and Catholic apologetics. During the course of a talk, Michael commented that, “post-modernity is essentially insanity… [because] everything that matters is unknowable.” 

He succinctly observed the contradiction inherent in postmodern thinking: it claims that there is no metaphysical truth, and yet this itself is a claim about metaphysical truth; it says that all truth is relative, and yet it makes judgements (a claim to absolute truth) about the truths proclaimed by others; it claims to be tolerant, and yet it is inherently intolerant of views motivated by a different way of thinking. 

When we proclaim our faith in the Incarnation, we make an incredibly bold statement that stands in opposition to the core tenets of postmodern thinking. By stating that God the Son became man, that He assumed a real human nature while remaining fully God, we are not only claiming a metaphysical truth: we are also claiming that our intellect is capable of knowing metaphysical truth. The Christian holds that the Word – the Logos, the Reason –through whom and for whom Creation was made (cf. John 1:1-3), does not simply remain an inaccessible, spiritual reality. 

The Christian proclaims that the Logos became man. In other words, truth – the highest and most significant Truth – joined itself to our human nature and embraced a human soul, with a human intellect and a human will. 

What does this say about humanity? Simply, that humanity is capable of knowing, of loving and of receiving God. What do the Incarnation and the Paschal mysteries say to us about metaphysical truths? That there is one, overarching reality with which our physical reality is in strict relationship: we were made by God and for God, we fell from His grace, and we have been redeemed by Him. This truth about the human race is neither abstract nor purely metaphysical: these are events that occurred in the flesh, that are part of a history. They are events that gener-ated consequences and continue to be experientially verifiable.

To separate these Christian truths from our intellectual lives is, indeed, insanity. The 20th century apologist, Francis Sheed, notes at the beginning of his book Theology and Sanity: “If we see things in existence and do not in the same act see that they are held in existence by God, then equally we are living in a fantastic world, not the real world.” 

Post-modernism, and indeed many of us on a day-to-day basis, are guilty of living in a fictitious world where we do not see everything in its real place, namely in an essential relationship to the living God. 

This is not simply an exercise of faith by the heart and the will. This is an act of the intellect: it is an intrinsically different way of looking at the world to that proposed by both modernity and, even more radically, postmodernity. St John Henry New-man once said: “Dogma is the food of prayer”. This may sound foreign to our contemporary ears, but putting aside societal preconceptions, he makes a profoundly relevant point for us today. It is necessary for us, as it was for Newman, not only to make space for the “heart-to-heart” conversation with God, but also to seek the objective truth and reasoning for our beliefs, as handed on by the Church over the centuries.

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of The Christian Heritage Centre

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Ritual and worship: signs, symbols and realities in the liturgy

Friday 4th October 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Ritual and worship: signs, symbols and realities in the liturgy

Adam Coates

Many readers will, a few months ago, have experienced an event that numerous proud parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncle go through – that of seeing their beloved child, grandchild, or niece or nephew graduate from university. 

They will have stepped, momentarily, into the sometimes baffling and esoteric world of academia. Heads may have been ‘capped’, hoods draped over shoulders, strange gowns will have been worn by the graduates and academic staff, the Gaudeamus Igitur may have even been sung. 

Overall, it makes for an enjoyable occasion as the graduands join the ranks of graduates, and their years of toil and labour are recognised and rewarded appropriately.

The Old Chapel Museum contains a stunning collection of chausables worn by Catholic clergy through the ages. Photo by permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College, copyright Stonyhurst College Collections

When viewed from the outside, these events may seem curious to behold. Why is someone touched on the head with an old hat? Why is a hood draped over your shoulders? We realise, within the confines of the graduation, that this is representative of something else; the signs and symbols of the ceremony mark an event and a change. Fundamentally, these things speak of something beyond that which they simply are. The old hat being tapped upon someone’s head marks the conferral of a degree, the odd gown represents the membership of the academic community. 

There is here, a certain parallel with the liturgy of the Church. In the liturgy, the Second Vatican Council says, ‘the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ’. Why does the Church worship? Fundamentally, the Church worships because worship is what is owed to God. To use the language of the 20th century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, the Church makes a “value response” to the supreme Value that is God. Unlike something which is merely subjectively satisfying, the realm of the objective is not something we bend to our will, but something which bends us to it. As God is supreme, we use the methods and ways He gives us to glorify Him. This is not something God needs, and it adds nothing to His being; it is, rather, the proper response of mankind to God.

Why, though, is Catholic worship filled with signs and symbols? Why does the priest genuflect? Why do people fall to their knees in adoration? Why are a series of vestments worn? Why does the priest make various gestures with his hands? To provide a general answer to these questions, it is necessary to go back to the question of what is the human person. A person, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, is a “unity of soul and body”. The body is not merely some vehicle for our souls to get around in, but is an essential part of what it is to be human. 

The atmospheric interior of St Peter’s. Photo by permission of Cassidy & Ashton

With regard to how we come to know things, St Thomas Aquinas asserts, drawing upon the Greek philosopher Aristotle, that nothing can exist in our minds without our first having sensed it. That is, our way of knowing anything depends on us having sensed it, at least in an elemental fashion, in some way. Even if one were to imagine something fanciful, like pink elephants with yellow polka dots, I am only able to imagine such a bizarre creature because I know what an elephant looks like, because I know what the colours pink and yellow are, and because I know what polka dots are. My imagination depends upon the abstract sense data to create the fictional. 

What does this have to do with worship? Exactly because we cannot know anything without having sensed it in some way, the Church makes liberal use in its official worship of that which engages the senses. What communicates that God is glorious: simply stating the fact, or saying it and falling to our knees in adoration? 

Falling to our knees, as well as being an appropriate value response, also has a pedagogical element in that we are made small before He who is mighty. Similarly, a stained-glass window, showing a saint and some item related to them, or a scene from the life of Our Lord or Our Lady, is a far more powerful devotional and catechetical tool than merely reading about the fact. As St Thomas Aquinas says, it is “befitting to man … that he should employ sensible signs to signify anything, because he derives his knowledge from sensibles”. 

St Thomas continues to relate this to the idea of worship in the form of sacrifice.

A continuous theme of the religious education curriculum for Catholic school children in England and Wales is an explanation and examination of the signs and symbols found within Catholic churches and in the liturgy.

It is hoped that we at the Christian Heritage Centre, making liberal use of the Stonyhurst College Collections and the sumptuous neogothic St Peter’s church, will be able to assist in this mission. St Peter’s is rich and colour and light and makes an ideal place for children to learn about Christian symbolism.

The Stonyhurst College Collections speak for themselves. As the oldest museum in the English-speaking world, it holds in trust a repository of sacred objects beyond compare. The chasubles worn and seen by our illustrious predecessors (pictured) are not simply museum pieces, but something that even today speaks of the beauty and grandeur of God experienced in the liturgy. Their beauty is communicative of Him who is beauty itself. It is hoped that visiting school groups of all ages will be able to see a little piece of this reality when they visit the Christian Heritage Centre on school visits. 

These objects, signs and symbols are all part of a reality stretching across time as the Church and its servants throughout the ages tried ever anew to communicate the greatness of the Almighty and the reality of the liturgical acts taking place. Thus the human person, this union of body and soul, is enriched by the Church’s liturgy in making this proper value response to God. They are educated and nourished by the use of sensible things, communicating in the most authentic manner possible the truth of spiritual realities. 

Adam Coates is the Educational Assistant at The Christian Heritage Centre

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Communicating the faith through stories of the saints and martyrs

Friday 6th September 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Communicating the faith through stories of the saints and martyrs

Sr Emanuela Edwards looks at storytelling and how, even in our hi-tech digital age, it remains a powerful way to communicate the faith.

One of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest, for the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is the communication of the faith to the people of our time. The Christian faith we possess, and the roots of our Christian Heritage must be rendered interesting and challenging and be communicated to everyone. It should be done in such a way that it can reinforce the faith of those who believe, whilst at the same time reach out to the periphery to speak of God’s love for all even to those who would not usually be interested!

One way of achieving this aim is to use the ancient art of storytelling. Since primitive times, stories have been used to transmit important truths, events and lessons to successive generations. In fact, the faith was originally handed on by the Apostles who testified or told the story of what they witnessed and learned from Christ. Artefacts and relics, like those in the Stonyhurst Collection, physically bring the stories of the martyrs and saints into proximity to those who look upon the objects. Pope Leo I asked, “why should the mind toil when the sight instructs” and indeed, looking at these artefacts and explaining their story presents an opportunity to recount the Christian faith in a captivating way.

Writing in the 4th Century Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith”. Encountering the stories of the lives of the saints and martyrs who have shaped our Christian Heritage sows the seeds of the faith in successive generations. Each artefact in the Stonyhurst Collections works like a silent sermon because it testifies to the life and witness of the martyr in question making their stories enter the present time and touch the life of the person viewing the object perhaps causing them to consider its lesson. Therefore, the stories of the Saints and martyrs become living lessons in the faith that can teach and inspire new generations hopefully calling them to a deeper conversion.

Oscar Romero Relic and Triptych. Relic is the property of a private individual on loan to Stonyhurst College. Triptych and bust of Romero are property of Stonyhurst College Photo: Property of Stonyhurst College

One of the most striking stories in the Collections is told by the relic of the rope that bound St Edmund Campion to the hurdle on which he was dragged through the streets of London before his execution. (The actual relic is the property of the British Jesuit Province on loan to Stonyhurst College). That rope tells the story of a Priest who, on penalty of death, nevertheless came to England in 1580 to preach the Gospel, confess and offer the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass to the Catholics driven underground in order to practice their faith. He preached and disseminated his famous Decem Rationes – ten reasons demonstrating the truth of the Catholic religion and was eventually captured, imprisoned and tortured before his execution at Tyburn on the 1st December 1581. His story raises an interesting question: why did St Edmund not yield to the tortures and inducements to conform in order to save his life? By word and deed St Edmund most eloquently testified that the Catholic faith is worth dying for. He did not change the course of his life as he knew that a seed must die to yield fruit (cfr. Jn 12:24). Today, that fruit is harvested in the hearts of those who are told of this heroic Priest whose behaviour was inspired by the truth of Christ and are brought into contact with the faith he died to proclaim.

Drawing of Edmund Campion SJ by Charles Weld, c1850, from a 17th century original painting.

The Collections also have a part of the vestment worn by St Oscar Romero who was killed in El Salvador in 1980 whilst offering the Holy Mass. This relic serves as a poignant reminder that Christian martyrdom is not an ancient reality but that this story still continues today.

Another English martyr whose story is told through the artefacts and relics of the Stonyhurst Collections is St Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, who was martyred for refusing to take the Oath of Succession in 1535. This saint’s story demonstrates how artefacts and relics can show the faith of the saint rather than just tell of it hence providing a more powerful source of Christian inspiration. During the homily for the Canonisation of St Thomas More, Pope Pius XI spoke of the “ardour of his prayer” and the “practice of those penances by which he kept his body in subjection.” Indeed, this can be borne out by close inspection of his golden crucifix with spikes on the back that was worn as a penance by the Saint. Here we learn something of the intimate life of the Saint that was founded on a deep prayer life. In fact, it was this intimacy with Christ that strengthened him to resist the tears of his wife and children over his condemnation and to be, “content to lose goods, land and life as well rather than to swear against his conscience”. In this way, the stories of the Saints also teach us that Christian witness is borne through a closeness to Christ in prayer and is not the fruit of the passing moment.

It is hoped that a visit to this beautiful collection will make the stories of the Saints vibrate in our hearts giving us a living lesson in the truths of the faith. May the stories of the martyrs strengthen us by imparting the knowledge of the faith and the inspiration to live it so that we too can witness to our rich Christian heritage that shaped our past and partake in its reconstruction in our own time.

Sr Emanuela Edwards

Missionaries of Divine Revelation
Trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst