Birmingham’s highest-ranking Roman Catholic clergyman was invested in front of a packed congregation at St Chad’s Cathedral.
More than 600 people gathered to watch the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, 54, installed as the ninth Archbishop of Birmingham, and more than 300 watched the service on television in the nearby Salvation Army Citadel.
The Mass was attended by more than 325 priests and the papal Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz, former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, previously Archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009.
The Most Rev Longley said in his sermon that he had been “encouraged” to see posters and banners advertising the Nativity Trail at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where visitors view 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 for his installation on Tuesday.
During the service a letter was read from Pope Benedict: “It falls to us as a successor of St Peter and the Universal Father, to make suitable provision for the vacant Metropolitan See of Birmingham.
‘‘It seems proper to us that you, Bernard, taking account of your evident gift, and their expert and pastoral exercise, are suitable to be appointed as head of this See. May the peace of Christ be with you...and this esteemed ecclesiastical community of Birmingham, which is most dear to us.”
Archbishop Longley lists establishing strong ties with other faiths as his priority: His aunt is a Jehovah’s Witness, his great grandmother would join in shouts of “No Popery” at Protestant Orange Order marches through Liverpool.
“You need to trust insights into other paths”, the Archbishop says.Archbishop Longley, whose mother converted to her husband’s faith, was an altar boy at eight, and had decided he wanted to be a priest by the time he was 12. He studied at Manchester’s Xaverian College and later his tenor voice paved his way to part-time studies at the Royal Northern College of Music.
After that, he studied English Literature as a choral scholar at New College, Oxford, and within a year of gaining his degree he entered the local Wonersh seminary. Ordination as a priest for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton followed – he met the future Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and became his protégé.
He learned his early pastorality as an assistant priest in Epsom and worked at two psychiatric hospitals, duties where, he hints, opened his eyes to the misfortunes of the ill, lonely and neglected. After studying in Rome, he spent nine years teaching in England.
Soon he found himself as Westminster auxiliary bishop and again working with the by then Cardinal Cormac. His patch was central and east London, where he chose a Tower Hamlets small terraced home and mingled with his neighbours from all over the world.
“I noticed unanswered needs among many of them,” he said. “Homosexuals and lesbians, I realised, had the notion they were less than welcome in Catholic churches – they would gather in a couple of Anglican churches. I knew we needed to start talking, the sense of exclusion went against our grain. We have to make ourselves open to all people who categorise themselves as different. Soon, with the Cardinal’s help, Masses were being offered with a special welcome for gay communities.” These are exciting times for the Archbishop to be coming to Birmingham – the city is due to have its first saint next year and the Pope is set to visit in September. “I’m excited to be here, Vincent told me so much about Birmingham’s vibrancy,” he said.