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The Making of an Archbishop

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Friday, 5 July

I’m dictating this in the garden of Pluscarden Abbey at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. For a change it’s pleasant enough to be sitting out — cloudy but with moments of sunshine and a gentle, if somewhat cool, breeze.

Tomorrow I go to Tynet and then on to Portsoy to celebrate Fr Ronnie Walls’ silver jubilee. He was the first priest I ordained when I became Bishop of Aberdeen. And then it’s on to Scalan for the annual mass at the old seminary in Upper Banffshire. It was at Scalan in the eighteenth century that one hundred priests were trained and ordained for the Scottish mission. Arguably, the survival of the Catholic Church in Scotland would not have been secure without that hidden seminary and the work of its teachers, such as George Hay, who had been educated in Rome and who subsequently was ordained bishop in that remote farmhouse in the Banffshire hills. A convert from Episcopalianism, Bishop Hay became a priest in Rome at the age of twenty-nine, a bishop at forty and died at Aquhorties in 1811 at the age of eighty-two. He was vicar apostolic of the lowland district of Scotland, the area east and south of what might be called the Highland line stretching from Dumbarton in the south-west to Nairn on the Moray Firth.

It was the attachment to the Catholic faith by people in remote areas of the country, such as this, that ensured that the Church continued throughout the darkest penal days and who, therefore, provided that predous thread of continuity that binds the Catholic Church of today to the Church of Ninian, Columba, Margaret and John Ogilvie and the many other Scottish saints, some of whom I had the privilege of having depicted on the lateral chancel walls of the cathedral in Aberdeen. If one lead from Glasgow takes us into the many parts of Ireland from which so many immigrants came in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the other lead takes us to the lands of Banffshire, to the west Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. It is on these intertwined threads, like the woven green and gold cord on which hangs the bishop’s pectoral cross, that the Church in Glasgow depends on historically.

After Scalan I go to Aberdeen, where I will be arranging my final ‘flit’. These days are full of emotion and nostalgia.

 Friday,12 July-Thursday,18 July

I leave early on this Friday morning for Prestwick where I join sick and able pilgrims en route for Lourdes. Last year I stood at the edge of the crowd — our Aberdeen pilgrimage overlapping with Glasgow’s. This year I am in the thick of it. As always, it is a deeply satisfying experience.

For me, the high point is presiding at the blessing of the sick in the underground basilica filled with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. I am flanked by the bonnie lassies of the St Margaret of Scotland Lourdes Group in their white shirts and tartan sashes and by the handsome lads of the same group carrying incense braziers. I feel immensely proud to be associated with them. To see the imploring eyes of countless people turned towards the monstrance (the display vessel in which the consecrated host is carried) with which I trace the sign of the cross over them is also humbling.

For the rest, I carry my candle, I drink the water, I bathe in the waters of the baths and I pray — as all do with evident ease at Lourdes. And, for the first time in years, I play cards in the evening

— and win! (Due, I hasten to add, to luck, not prayer!)

 Friday, 19 July

We leave Glasgow for Toronto today to attend World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II- ‘we’ being the 140 fellow travellers from Glasgow and the forty-six from Aberdeen. I am booked in with the latter since arrangements for my accompanying the group had already been made prior to my transfer to Glasgow. In the end the Aberdeen group is put on an earlier plane and we fly with Air Canada.

 @An extract from this recent publication by Black and White Publishing (ISBN 1-902927-66-4)

Obtained from Yeadons Books Elgin 01434 542411