A candle for Winnie, A candle for Keith

Winnie Johnson death

Today, 18th August, is the anniversary of the death in 2012 of Winnie Johnson.

Winnie was known throughout England as the mother of Keith Bennett, the child victim of the moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Despite extensive searching Keith’s body has never been found.

Winnie campaigned tirelessly to find Keith’s grave, and it was this aspect of her life which was well known in the media. However, as we recalled at Winnie’s funeral, at St Chrysostom’s, there was much much more to Winnie. She was a woman who engaged fully with life, and was an inspiration to so many. Despite the tragedy in her life she was cheerful and a direct speaker. She was a member of our congregation, regularly coming to Sunday Mass on her electric scooter and sitting right at the front. She was ever the same, cheerful and frank in her manner. The local community misses her. We miss her at church.

The leaves hanging in memory of Keith Bennett

The leaves hanging in memory of Keith Bennett

The hanging behind the font in Church is in memory of Keith. He loved to collect leaves and local children drew different leaves and members of the textiles department of Manchester University made the hanging. We hope soon to have a plaque placed in church to remind us of this.

Winnie’s example encourages us to pray for, and have a heart for mothers of the world whose children have disappeared in terrible circumstances.

Winnie’s example encourages us to have courage, and remain faithful and strong in the face of tragedy.

Each Sunday when she came to mass Winnie lit a candle for Keith. Two candles will burn in church today (and prayers will be said by our Walsingham pilgrims too) – one for Keith and another for his mother, Winnie. May they both rest in peace and rise in God’s glory.

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Why I go to Walsingham

Each year pilgrims from St C’s go on pilgrimage to Walsingham Fr Chris tells us why he goes. 

Some of our Walsingham pilgrims in 2013

Walsingham, in North Norfolk, has been a place of pilgrimage for many hundreds of years. Why pilgrimage and why Walsingham?

Walsingham is a centre of prayer and devotion. Like many shrines it’s off the beaten track, and  perhaps that’s all part of it!

A pilgrimage is about many things, but for me it’s about the preparation, the journey and the arrival.

A pilgrim in many ways goes on holiday – but a holiday with a purpose.  As with all holiday makers there is the sense of adventure, the excitement of doing something out of the ordinary, and of meeting with others.  But, it isn’t only that, it is also expecting to encounter something of the living God in our prayers, and in our interaction one with another.

Walsingham is about remembering Mary, the young Jewish woman, who in response to the Angel Gabriel says Yes to God.  It is obedience to do God’s will, and the result is the birth of the Saviour of the World.

We might go to Walsingham to experience colourful religion.  We might go because of the delightful charm of a Norfolk Village with its leafy lanes which are a far cry from inner-city Manchester.  We might go for a relaxing time with other people, enjoying friendship and conversation.  All of these rings true for Walsingham.

But, to answer the question, I go because I can relax with God, and can renew my spiritual batteries, I can connect with a God who is a God who surprises. It is so often in travelling, or journeying, that we encounter folk in differing ways – even, I might say ourselves.

Whilst staying at the Shrine Pilgrims are “sprinkled” which is a quaint term for a special act of devotion.  Each pilgrim is invited to receive water from the holy well. The pilgrim receives a sip of water, has the sign of the cross traced with the water on their forehead, and then has the water poured into their hands.  This act of “sprinkling” is accompanied by the words “May Almighty God, through the intercession of our Lady of Walsingham, grant you health and peace”

In a short answer,  I go to Walsingham to share that health and peace which comes from God and which I glimpse at Walsingham.


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The Madonna of the Village

The Madonna of the Village appears on this year’s poster for the Feast of the Assumption Mass at St Chrysostom’s. The painting by the Jewish artist Marc Chagall is one of his most striking. 

During the years of the Jewish holocaust, Chagall painted numerous religious scenes taken from the Christian tradition. He started on The Madonna of the Village in about 1939. Through the years of the holocaust he continued on the work. First of all in Gordes, in southern France, where he had fled to escape the menacing Nazi advance through Holland and Belgium towards France. The painting was not entirely completed until 1942, while the painter was staying in New York.

The painting in its final state shows a Mary holding Jesus in her arms, surrounded by angels singing and playing music accompanied by a flying cow with a violin. The scene is set near a small village. Mary, painted on a large scale wears a bridal gown, and floats in a fantasy world so characteristic of the painter.

The feast of the Assumption is a day to celebrate the day when, according to the Anglican bishop Thomas Ken:

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
next to his throne her Son his Mother placed

We celebrate Mary’s life and her entrance into heaven. It is a glorious feast of hope and destiny to inspire our imaginations and our faith. A day to allow faith, mystery, fantasy and hopes to intermingle as Chagall has in this engaging painting.

For another reflection on a painting and the Assumption, please see, on our church blog: Our Assumption.

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Postcard from the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette

On the 19th September 1846, in a remote part of the Alps two children, Melanie and Maximin, with Maximin’s little dog, Lulu, climbed a distant valley guiding the cows they were looking after. The children rested after lunch and the cows wandered away.  When he awoke, as he looked for the animals, Maximin heard a lady weeping. He woke Melanie and the two, and it seems, Lulu, saw a ‘beautiful lady.’ The lady invited the children to come closer and she talked for a while with them. She encouraged them to listen to her message of invitation to renew faith, to honour Jesus, and to pray regularly, even if it is simply an Our Father and a Hail Mary each morning and evening. The lady then disappeared in an extraordinary light. The children never saw her again, the apparition was not repeated.

A lovely series of statues recreate the story of La Salette visually at the site of the apparition.

When Melanie and Maximin returned to their peasant village and told their story people identified the lady as Mary. Their place of vision grew to become, and remains, a place of great holiness and pilgrimage. This is the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, not as well known, but pre-dating, such shrines as Fatima and Lourdes.

This place of remote magnificent natural beauty near 6,000ft above sea level is a place of stillness, peace and beauty. On my visit, on a personal pilgrimage, I seemed to be the only English person but there were many French, Polish, Czech and Spanish pilgrims. It is a shrine which deserves to be better known in Britain.

The majesty of the scenery, the clear air, and the simple beauty encourage wonder and prayer. Whatever one’s thoughts on apparitions or visions it cannot be denied that this is a beautiful and special place, a ‘thin place’ where heaven and earth seem very close. Pilgrimage to this unique place has clearly brought about renewal and refocus in everyday faith for many people.

The message of La Salette is starkly simple. God’s kingdom is close! Draw close to God and Jesus in prayer, and live out your faith.  

Before she vanished from the children’s sight the Beautiful Lady ended her message with a commission to the children, to us all, ‘My children, make this (the message of La Salette) known to all my people.’

Fr Ian

Scenes from the beautiful modern chapel in the pilgrim hostel

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See the treasures of the Church

One of the most celebrated saints in the history of the Church, St Laurence is honoured on August 10th. His day is, unusually, given a high rank – Feast rather than Memorial – in the Roman Catholic Western calendar. The current edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints – an encyclopedia of saints – tells us; Laurence’s extraordinary fame is based mainly on fiction: on a quaint mixture of sacred irony (or sheer cheek) and miracle…

Well, good stories are instructive and inspiring, so let’s not be put off. Tradition tells us that Laurence was one of the seven deacons of Rome. When the emperor Valerian published edicts against Christinas in 257 Sixtus, the Bishop of Rome was arrested and executed. The story tells us that Laurence’s date of death was prophesied and in anticipation Laurence quickly sold the sacred vessels and gave the proceeds to the poor, widows and orphans.


Laurence distributing alms to the poor: Fra Angelico (Vatican)

The prefect of Rome summoned Laurence and demanded the treasures of the Church.

Laurence gathered ‘the blind, lame, lepers, orphans, windows etc’ and invited the prefect to inspect the Church’s real treasure.

The prefect regarded this as an insult and had Laurence tortured and killed by slowly roasting him.

The central images of the legend of Laurence have inspired individuals, and the church as a whole, for centuries. The power of Laurence is not only in the legend but in the holiness he has inspired.

  • Today Laurence calls Christian congregations to have courage to stand up for social justice and to honour the needy.
  • Laurence challenges Christians today to question their perspectives. A wealthy church is one containing the treasures of the Church – the poor, the marginalised, the weak and forgotten.

For us at St Chrysostom’s Laurence affirms us in our ministry to support justice in our society. His example invites us to honour those among us who seek asylum, those who are victims of human trafficking, those with few resources and other underprivileged people, and rejoice in them as treasures of our Church.

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Deities at the Bottom of the Garden

Central Library, Manchester, has a lovely little exhibition at present, Deities at the Bottom of the Garden. The contemporary Sheffield artist Richard Bartle has constructed twelve scaled down garden sheds each with an interior modelled on the worship place of a major world religion. It is fitting that the exhibition is being staged here in Manchester where so many different world faiths interact.

The sheds provide a fascinating introduction to the worship and ethos of the religions and and inevitably lead to comparisons. It is also lovely to ask which one appeals most to the observer, and why. Which one would you like at the bottom of your garden? Of course answers may change from day to day over that. Gregory, aged 8yrs, said he liked the Bah’ai one most because of the lovely patterns and the light.

The sheds take the grandeur of a worship space into the intimate space of a garden shed, but the artist has used materials which would be used in the full size worship space. Hand woven small carpets, painted ceilings, and painstaking attention to detail make each of the sheds special works of art.

The feeling one gets of looking in is of homeliness and invitation. One is drawn into the intimacy and colour of the shed, and inspired by a personal, domestic faith, and encouraged to explore our own personal faith space. The exhibition also explores such issues of use of space, colour and design by different faiths. The differences between the sheds, the different uses of light, colour and space, help us reflect on what is important in faith practice in world faiths and in our own practice of faith. How would we design a shed reflecting our own personal faith?

Do go along to the exhibition on the first floor of the library (It has been extended to September 30th). You won’t be disappointed.

Now, can you recognise the twelve religions’ sheds from the photos?


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Transfigured on Tabor

Transfiguration Window in the Anson Chapel of St Chrysostom’s Church

Mount Tabor, the Mount of the Transfiguration was the second in our series of Hills of the Bible. Here is a summary of Canon Alma’s sermon at Sunday Mass:

Jesus has gone to pray on the mountain, taking with him his closest disciples. Just before this , he had been emphasising that he must suffer, and that his followers would share in that suffering. After they left the mountain Jesus was immediately confronted with a demand for healing – an epileptic boy that his parent’s couldn’t help.

So the marvellous, mystical event of the Transfiguration is sandwiched between talk of suffering and the pain of afflicted humanity.

Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, the two greatest figures of the Old Testament. Moses was the liberator of his enslaved people, and he received the law of the Lord on Mount Sinai. Elijah, greatest of the prophets, was faithful to God at a time when his people were faithless. He suffered persecution and isolation. He battled with the king and queen and their false prophets on Mount Carmel. So Jesus, Moses and Elijah, are all great mountain top men of God who have to battle for God in the world. The two go together because God gets his hands dirty . Law, prophecy and redemption all mean involvement with humanity.

Then there is dazzling light and Jesus is seen shining and changed in appearance – transfigured. I have always imagined this as God shining through Jesus, as there is nothing in the way, unlike with the rest of us. He is the vehicle for God’s light; not the limelight of celebrity which comes from outside.

Transfiguration Window at Taize

A voice is heard from the cloud. The cloud being, especially in Moses’ story, a location of God’s presence. The voice calls Jesus his son. Many have seen this as showing the Holy Trinity – the cloud of the Spirit, the voice of the Father and the radiance of the Son.

‘This is my Son, listen to him.’ Listen to him when he talks of suffering and bearing his cross. The conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah is centred around Jesus’ departure which was to be accomplished at Jerusalem.

And so here on Mount Tabor, the mountain of Transfiguration, we see the revelation, the glory, the voice, the suffering and the nature of God.

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