ARCHBISHOP Vincent Nichols paid a warm tribute to the priests, deacons and religious in the Archdiocese of Birmingham during his homily at the Chrism Mass in St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, on Wednesday April 8, writes Peter Jennings.
Archbishop Nichols, who was installed as the eighth Archbishop of Birmingham on March 29 2000, said: "Today is a day for renewal in the ordained ministry. We priests seek renewal in our fundamental ministry of sanctifying the people, of preaching the Word, of teaching and ordering the life of the Church so that it reflects something of the goodness of God."
The Archbishop-elect of Westminster said the day also had a special poignancy for him personally since it was the 10th time he had been privileged to lead the celebration of the Chrism Mass and "it will be the last".
In front of the congregation who packed the Metro- politan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad's, including more than 250 priests, Archbishop Nichols spoke of the "great richness and character" of the archdiocese.
"Among the great figures who stand tall," he said, "are Cardinal John Henry Newman and Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne, OSB, [the first Bishop of Birmingham 1850-18881."
The archbishop went on to pay a heartfelt tribute to the "tremendous richness of religious women and inspiring leaders in work among the poor and in education".
lie added: "This archdiocese is not afraid of change. There are new patterns of shared ministry. There is plenty of innovation for parish mission and for the promotion of prayer, and for work with young people.
"People arriving here from many countries throughout the world find our diocese a welcoming place. The face of this dio
cese, its people and its priests is firmly cosmopolitan and full of the richness and diversity of our hutnan family."
Archbishop Nichols declared himself sorry to be leaving the great diocese. "More poignantly," he said, "it will be hard to be no longer part of this presbyterate. You are a fine body of priests, with different characters and temperaments, dedicated, motivated, generous and spirited.
"I admire the enthusiasm of the young priests. I salute the wisdom and endurance of the older men now in their 70s, 80s and one in his 90s.
"I appreciate those, like me, in the mid-years of their ministry, when perseverance and a day-to-day dedication is called for and willingly given."
Archbishop Nichols concluded: "Today at this Chrism Mass we renew our promises and resolve to stay focused on the tasks and challenges of the priesthood. "Let us also be resolved to pray for each other. As you know, the claims of God upon me have been made clear. I will need his hand on my shoulder. That is made real in prayer."
At the end of Mass Archbishop Nichols stood outside St Chad's Cathedral for more than 30 minutes and greeted each one of his priests in turn, followed by every member of the congregation. It was a poignant ending to an emotional occasion in the life of the archdiocese.