The Baptism of the Lord – 10th January 2016

Dear Parishioners,

I trust that you had a very Happy Christmas and a refreshing break. Here, the New Year was marked by a well-attended Mass at noon on the 1st January during which we invoked God’s blessing on our parish during this Year of Mercy.

With Christmas still in mind I ask to think about the following proposal before we discuss it at the next Parish Forum a week on Wednesday, 20th January.

After the 8pm Christmas Eve Mass in West Bradford village hall, a number of parishioners from Dunsop lamented the fact that since the Mass time was changed a couple of years ago from 6pm to 8pm many families who used to attend no longer came. Parents said that 8pm was too late especially for younger children.

We do need three Masses on Christmas Eve (Clitheroe and Sabden are packed out) and these should be arranged so that one priest is able to celebrate all three. Fr Kevin will probably still be here next Christmas but thereafter I expect to be working on my own.

I was then asked whether a 4pm Mass on Christmas Eve would be permissible. It would if it catered for families with children and was open to the whole parish. The next question was whether it could be celebrated in St Michael and John’s which is so beautifully decorated at Christmas time. Yes. A shrewd individual than commentated that by transferring to Clitheroe it would save the cost of hiring the Hall and be more appropriate for the celebration of such an important feast. It would also relieve the pressure of driving to West Bradford with everything required for the celebration of Mass and then rushing back to arrange the altar for the 6pm Mass. A special 4pm Mass would allow for a more child centred liturgy to be celebrated and with a children’s choir. No doubt it might also reduce the crush at the 6pm Mass.

Mass on Christmas Day in Clitheroe and Dunsop would continue as this Christmas.

Observations, please?

As already arranged, the next Forum a week on Wednesday will be held in Sabden – some distance from Dunsop! As Clitheroe is more central to the whole parish, maybe we should host future Forums (Fora?) in Clitheroe only? Discuss!

The 99 group please meet this Wednesday at 7.30pm in the Presbytery.

RCIA resumes on Thursday after Mass at 8pm.

The Christmas tree will be removed after Mass today but the crib remains until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on 2nd February.

Fr John

Epiphany of the Lord – 3rd January 2016

Dear Parishioners,

Fr Peter Birmingham’s funeral will take place in his home parish in Radcliffe, Bury, where his vocation began and matured and where most of his close knit family still reside.

His mortal remains will be received into the church of St Mary and St Philip Neri, Radcliffe, on Tuesday 5th January at 7.00pm with Mass. The following day, Wednesday 6th January at 12noon, Bishop John will celebrate his Requiem which will be followed by burial in Radcliffe cemetery.

The post code for the church is M26 4DG. While parishioners are welcome to attend either Mass, for those who wish to go to the Requiem on Wednesday a coach will depart St Mary’s Sabden at 10.15am on the 6th and following the funeral will depart Radcliffe at 1.45 to return to Sabden. The coach is free and some seats are available but if you wish to travel you must inform Pat Whitwell ( (01282 774588) before Sunday evening.

Fr Peter died early on Tuesday 22nd December at Nazareth House Prestwich in his eighty third year and the fifty fourth year of his Priesthood, following diagnosis of stomach cancer two years ago. During the whole of this period his indomitable spirit and cheerfulness never left him.

Fr Peter was born on 15th August 1933, and was baptised in St Mary and St Philip Neri’s old church on 27th August 1933 and was confirmed on 10th May 1942. He was educated in the parish school and worked for a period before being accepted for training to the priesthood in February 1954. This began with two years at Osterley to bring his education up to scratch before joining the major seminary programme at St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, in September 1956.

He was ordained in our Cathedral on 16th June 1962, by the Bishop George Andrew Beck.

As Assistant Priest he served at Holy Family, Kirkholt for 8 years before transferring to Holy Saviour, Nelson where he and his successful youth club became well known, even outside the town.

In 1984 he was appointed Parish Priest of St Teresa, Irlam and nine years later to St Joseph, Accrington before his arrival at St Mary, Sabden in 1997. While at Sabden, in 2004, he also took responsibility for St Anne, Blackburn until his retirement in 2008.

Throughout his appointments Fr Birmingham also served as a Chaplain to the Army Cadet Force.

His present appointment is with the Lord whom he served so faithfully throughout his life.

Fr John


Midnight Mass at Southwark Cathedral

buy Lyrica belfast Archbishop Peter Smith’s Homily for Christmas and the Year of Mercy

“The people that lived in darkness had seen a great light. On those who live in the land of deep shadow, a light has shone.”  These themes of light and darkness were often used in the ancient world as symbols of people’s experience of life.  Light associated with goodness, knowledge and hope.  Darkness symbolised evil, ignorance and despair. In the time of the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites were an embattled people, oppressed by foreign powers and driven into exile.  In those dark days they were convinced that the God of their fathers had abandoned them and in their misery pleaded with God to have mercy on them.  God responded to their plea through the prophet  giving them hope that he would indeed come and save them, for there is a child born for us, a son given to us and this is the name they give him:  Wonderful Counsellor Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.   As Christians we believe that this promise was fulfilled on the first Christmas night when God became man, in the person of Jesus Christ,  the long awaited Messiah, the saviour and redeemer of the world, – Emmanuel, “God  with us!”.   That was the astonishing joyful news announced to the shepherds on the first Christmas night, “Listen I give you a great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour ahs been born to you.  He is Christ the Lord.”  And that truth is reiterated in St John’s gospel, when John says of Jesus Christ, all that came to be had life in him and that life was the life of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower. The true light that enlightens all men because in him we see made visible the God we cannot see. So whilst our hearts are filled with hope and joy tonight we can’t ignore or forget the pain and  tragic experiences of so many people in the world today nor the heartbreaks and sadness witch arise from time to time in our own lives and in the lives of others.  I’m thinking especially of the terrifying events in Paris just over a month ago, the persecution of Christians and many others, the refugee crisis in the Middle East and other parts of the world, famine in Ethiopia and extreme poverty and lack of education in other countries. The list is endless.  These tragedies remind us that the world is still in need of redemption from sin and evil.  As Christians we believe that the work of salvation and redemption is literally a labour of love and mercy which God pursues through, with and in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That process of redemption has to be worked out through every age until the second coming of Christ at the end of time.  By taking on our wounded humanity he became our brother our closest friend and companion on the road of life sharing our pain and isolation, came to share our lives intimately,  to show us how to carry our burdens and share in his example of how to care for those most in need.  He is our model for Jesus said of himself:  “I am the way the truth and the life.”  And he came to show us the way back to the house of our heavenly father, the prodigal father, slow in anger and rich in mercy who waits with infinite passion and patience the final eternal home of all his children so for us and all people of good will Christmas is pre-eminently  a season of joy and hope The challenge for each one of us of us is to allow Jesus to be born again in our hearts, to allow his love mercy and compassion to become incarnate in our heart and minds so that in our own times we too might be lights in a world that has become so dark with selfishness and sin.  And in this Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis is calling all Christians and all people of good will to a profound conversion of heart turning away from selfishness and self interest to reveal in our lives that infinite love and merry of God making our own unique contribution to the task of healing human brokenness, to foster peace and harmony in human relationships and through the corporal works of mercy feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, healing the sick so to bring a little of Christ’s life into the darkness of the world in which we live.  So my prayer for you all tonight is that message of Christ will find a home in us and that the peace of Christ may reign in our hearts tonight and throughout the coming year.  And let us all commit ourselves to living this Year of Mercy, and in doing what we can to help all those in need we can be quite sure that God will show mercy to us too.


Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) – 13th December 2015

Dear Parishioners,

Many people return to the Church after a period of non-attendance, as they sense a spiritual emptiness in their lives, a space that only God can fill. But many more would probably return if only they knew they were missed and wanted back. Whatever the reason that someone stopped practicing their Catholic faith in the past, they should be assured of a warm welcome on return.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle many face in taking up the practice of their faith again is a feeling of guilt. But this does not come from Christ, who was known for his welcome to sinners. Jesus understands completely, even more than themselves, why they left the Church and why they may like to return.

Difficulties may include sore memories of the Church: a feeling of fear before Confession (better known today as Reconciliation); an argument with a parishioner about crying children; a sermon they took exception to; or it may be issues over gender or teaching on marriage.

Having questions about various aspects of Catholic faith and life is perfectly normal, since faith will always be a challenge to our purely human ways of thinking and acting as also our attempts to talk about God which are always inadequate.

Like any family, the Church can sometimes bruise as well as comfort but the Church is acutely aware today of being far from perfect, especially under the leadership of Pope Francis who lays such stress on forgiveness and reliance on God’s grace which we all need if we are to put hurts and failures behind us and go forward with our pilgrim Church in the hope that things will be better.

As Christmas approaches, I ask you to give this page some thought and prayer and then discuss it with a friend or family member who has stopped coming regularly to Mass and invite them to come home for Christmas.

Simply assure our friend that no matter what the obstacle or difficulties they are always welcome in Church and able to discuss any matter troubling them with one of the priests.

Don’t be afraid to invite them. Remember that God has no messenger other than you.

But do more than simply invite. Returning after an absence can be daunting so accompany them back, at least initially.

Y’all welcome.

Fr John

Second Sunday of Advent – 6th December 2015

Dear Parishioners,

Pope Francis, not long after he became Pope, was asked how he would describe himself. “I am a sinner,” then added, “who has been looked upon by the face of mercy.” It is an answer that is true of each one of us. But the difference between us and Pope Francis is that his awareness of the mercy of God is central to his faith and life. It is his awareness of God’s mercy and the way he then shows it to others that makes him the remarkable man he is and allows his influence to stretch outside the Church and across the world.

To encourage us to come to know the mercy of God, to appreciate that God’s love accepts us as we are, while at the same time encourages us to become what we are called to be that Pope Francis decided to call A Year of Mercy which will be launched in Rome this Tuesday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It will end on Sunday, 20 November 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and living face of the Father’s mercy. When he announced this Year of Mercy Pope Francis said “I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.”

The diocese has produced a pamphlet giving a broad outline of the year of mercy and a prayer card and these are available at the back of the church for you to take.

Information on diocesan events will be announced later.

So, how much does God love me? As he hung crucified, in agony and dying, Jesus looked down on the men who had tortured, mocked and nailed him to the cross and instead of cursing them to hell he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

In an interview 5 days ago Pope Francis was asked “Is there a gesture you intend to make during the Jubilee to show God’s mercy?”

He responded. “There will be many gestures, but on one Friday each month I will make a different gesture.” Watch this space!

Fr John

First Sunday of Advent – 29th November 2015

Dear Parishioners,
As the world moves into overdrive and begins a manic shopping spree in preparation for the festivities, we Catholics should keep our heads and remember that above all else Advent is a time in which to prepare spiritually to celebrate the great feast of Christmas. How? Pope Francis has commentated: “In their daily routine, St. Joseph, together with Mary, shared a single centre of attention: Jesus. They accompanied and nurtured the growth of the Son of God made man with commitment and tenderness while reflecting on all that was happening. In his Gospel, St. Luke twice emphasizes this attitude of Mary: she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”. To listen to the Lord, we must learn to contemplate, feel his constant presence in our lives, and we must stop and speak with him, giving him space in prayer. In Advent we should ask ourselves, “How much space do I give to the Lord? Do I stop to talk with him?” Ever since we were children, our parents encouraged us to start and end the day with a prayer, to teach us to feel that the friendship and the love of God accompanies us. Let us remember the Lord more in our daily life, especially this Advent!”

So, beginning today, I encourage you to listen to Pope Francis’ advice and give a short time each day to quiet reflection, prayer, reading the Gospels or whatever. New Walk with Me booklets are available at the back to help you to do this each day of Advent. £1

Two years ago, I introduced you to Olive Aid. This is a charity which helps Palestinians who have lost their olive trees, usually their only source of income, to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on the West bank and that dreadful security wall. Olive trees are precious: just twenty trees can sustain a family for a year. Olive Aid is a self-help project run by the Catholic Bethlehem University which provides needy families with three year old olive saplings. Christian and Muslim alike are helped but the project particularly aims to stem the emigration of Christian families who suffer the most in the conflict. Today, Christians in Bethlehem constitute less than 15% of the population. Fifty years ago, Christians living in the birthplace of Jesus made up more than 70% of the population. You can donate a tree for £25. For details see me or go to It is a Christmas Charity that I support and a number of parishioners have joined with me over the past few years.

Finally, now is the time to consider which friend or relation, who may have slipped from practice, you will invite to join you at church “to come home for Christmas”.

Fr John

Christ the King – 22nd November 2015

Dear Parishioners,

Today’s letter from Bishop John begins a process that will gradually refashion our diocese into the missionary diocese that Pope Francis wants us to be. There will be no sudden destabilizing shocks but a gradual transformation.
Most will be pleased with the Bishop’s proposals made in repose to the recent diocese wide consultation. Others will feel shocked and threatened at the proposed closure or amalgamation of parishes and want to know why this must happen.
To answer that we have to look back to the end of WWII and the huge housing schemes that followed as densely populated and bomb damaged inner-city areas were redeveloped and new estates were built on the fringes of cities and towns. To serve these, Salford diocese founded new parishes complete with school and in some instances more than one church. Pre-war our diocese had 149 parishes. Fifty years later in 1980 these had increased to 207.
This expansion coincided with an unprecedented increase in the numbers of Clergy. Compare the year 1978 when Salford had 417 priests in active ministry to today when there are only 150 of whom 23 are over the retirement age of 75 but still running parishes! It is estimated that in five years’ time we shall have only 108 priests below the age of 75 to serve 150 parishes.
Then there is a third factor. Sadly, during the past 40 years, as we are all too painfully aware, the practice rate of Catholics has more than halved. Many churches, both old and recent, struggle with poor attendance and support.
To face the future with confidence, to grow into a lean and missionary church that is fit for purpose, some churches will need to close while others will remain without a resident priest but within a larger parish. In this new situation parish communities will need to organise themselves to provide catechists, lay ministers and administrators who will help to run their parish, look after its buildings and free their priest to serve their sacramental needs.
In our own parish we are now used to this new model and, hopefully, are making it work to the benefit of all.

Do read the summary of the Bishop’s proposals, available after Mass. His full 18 page report is on the parish website: and the diocesan site: Hard copies may be requested from the parish office.

Fr John


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15th November 2015

Dear Parishioners,

Parish Forum is this Wednesday, 18th November at 7.30pm in the Parish Hall.

I have appealed on several occasions over the past years for volunteers (men or women!) to strengthen our wonderful team of church cleaners. In response a few generous parishioners have stepped forward but we do need more. “Many hands make light work!” Even if you can’t commit to every single week, just come when you can. Please do consider joining us for one hour on Monday mornings at 9.30am. Afterwards there is good chat and a cup of tea. Particularly we are looking for helpers in a fortnight on Monday 30th November to ‘bottom’ the church in preparation for Christmas.

The Diocesan charity, CARITAS, has reported that on average today’s funerals costs range between £3,500 and £5,500. This represents an 80% increase in just 10 years and can leave some families with a debt. CARITAS advises that we think about and plan ahead for our funerals instead of leaving everything to the last minute and hurried decisions.
When you have an idea of what you want then shop around just as you would when buying anything else, approaching at least three Funeral Directors and asking them for an explanation of their costs.

So, things to consider.

Do you wish to have a simple funeral package: that is a simple coffin and a hearse, leaving mourners to travel in their own vehicles. This will cost around £1,200. A more costly coffin and vehicles add to the price.
Further costs are the fees of two doctors required to certify death, the cost of a grave, the crematorium, the opening of a family grave, a donation to the Church, notices in the paper, organist’s fees, flowers, and/or catering for mourners at home or elsewhere.
It is always best to plan ahead and to inform your next of kin what sort of religious service you want: a Requiem, a funeral service in church or a simple service in the crematorium. But what you shouldn’t do is arrange your own funeral service or ask a friend or family to do so! In the Catholic Church we have a prescribed liturgy which we follow. If in doubt then ask your Parish priest.
Planning ahead or as we used to say, “Putting your affairs in order” is prudent and when your time comes will be of great help to your family. Above all else it ensures that you will have the funeral you want and one that reflects our hope in eternal life.

Fr John


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 8th November 2015

Dear Parishioners,

21 parishioners attended the first meeting to look at Pope Francis’ inspirational letter, The Joy of the Gospel. Comments afterwards were extremely positive. We resume on Wednesday, so if you couldn’t come last week, do join us this Wednesday for refreshments at 7.15pm followed by a 1 hour meeting at 7.30 in the Parish Centre.

No doubt you have noticed the newly tarmaced road between the Church and School which has created a safer passage for our children. In icy conditions the clearly marked walkway will be kept clear of snow and salted. Cars that do not have disabled parking permits will be asked to move if parked in the disabled bays and the yellow lines have so far prevented inconsiderate parking.

The drainage of the sports field is completed. All that remains is to pay the bills.

This leads me to the appeal Derek Pearce made last month. Quite a number of parishioners took forms for Bankers orders, Gift Aid forms and/or Offertory envelopes. If you have one of these at home, please do return it as soon as you are able. To recap Derek’s talk: a Bankers Order saves you looking at the last minute for a contribution to the collection on busy Sunday mornings, signing a Gift Aid form automatically increases every £1 you give by 25p. So every £5 becomes £6.25, every £10 becomes £12.50 and so on. Please do consider this. Each week we receive in the collection some £130 in notes, which if Gift Aided could earn an extra £1,600 a year. (Do remember that signing Gift Aid commits you to no promises) For further information please contact me, Fr Kevin, or Carol Riley (426769) or John Thornber (427352), both members of the Parish Finance Committee. There are plenty of forms and envelopes available.

Congratulations to our school at St Mary’s Sabden which has been awarded a Certificate of Merit and a Trophy by the Keep Britain Tidy Scheme for having the best kept school and grounds in the Ribble Valley. Yes, the best in the Ribble valley! Well done!

Finally, a new study has suggested that Church attendance can ward off depression. Scientists from the London School of Economics surveyed 10,000 people over the age of 50 for four years to see which kind of social activities might stop people feeling depressed. The study found that regular Church attendance did just that!

                                                                                       Fr John