Birmingham City Council and a major art institution have been singled out for praise over their role in helping tell the Christmas story by one of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, the new Archbishop of Birmingham, said he had been "encouraged" to see posters and banners advertising the Nativity Trail at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where visitors view a series of paintings telling the story of Christmas.

"I felt so encouraged to see this prominent institution, with the support of the city council, enabling the story at the heart of Christian faith to be experienced and appreciated through the beauty and the message of great works of art in public ownership," he told a congregation gathered at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham for his installation.

His remarks were made after concerns have been expressed in past years by religious leaders over alleged attempts to turn Christmas into a "winterval" festival.

He was speaking in a sermon at the mass marking his installation as the ninth Archbishop of Birmingham.

The event was attended by more than 600 people who gathered in the cathedral with over 300 watching through closed circuit television in the nearby Salvation Army Citadel.

The mass was attended by more than 325 priests from the arch diocese of Birmingham, Westminster, Suffolk, and the diocese of Arundel and Brighton who celebrated the mass together with other senior figures from the church in England and Wales.

Those attending included the papal Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz, the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

The most reverend Longley, 54, is in charge of the arch diocese of Birmingham, covering areas including Stoke on Trent, Stafford, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Birmingham, Worcester and Oxford.

In his sermon, he spoke of his "profound sense of hope" about the future and his "deep-rooted" gratitude for the life and witness of the arch diocese of Birmingham, including its priests, religious men and women and all its lay people.

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