The Apostolic Papal Nuncio to the United Kingdom, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, celebrated a special Campion Day Mass at Stonyhurst College on December 1. After the Mass he presented an Apostolic Blessing from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Christian Heritage Centre project at Stonyhurst. The Blessing was accepted by the Headmaster of the College and the Heads of Line.
During the Mass Mgr Mennini gave the following homily:
I want you to know that I am very happy to be with you for Campion Day in order to celebrate the Eucharist with you and for you and to spend a little time getting to know you and the community of Stonyhurst College. As the representative of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and on my own behalf, I thank you, dear Mr Johnson, and your staff, for inviting me to be here as we celebrate the memory of that great English Jesuit priest and Martyr, Saint Edmund Campion. I want you to know that I feel particularly ‘at home’ here, because I was educated at a Jesuit school and my brother Pier-Georgio, is a Jesuit priest, at present working in India.
Father Clement Tigar, a Jesuit priest who was directly involved in the Canonisation of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, wrote this of Edmund Campion: “In June fifteen-eighty (1580), when Campion landed on these shores, in disguise, he brought with him the spirit of chivalry in defence of the ancient Faith. By his holiness of life, his unquenchable good humour, his charm of manner, his burning eloquence, he put new heart, new courage, new enthusiasm, into the persecuted, dejected Catholics of England.”
Edmund Campion was the son of a London bookseller who was educated at Christ’s Hospital and St John’s College, Oxford. He was a very popular figure while at Oxford and enjoyed the patronage of, among other famous figures, the Earl of Leicester. When Queen Elizabeth the First came to visit the University in fifteen-sixty-six (1566), Campion was chosen by the University as orator to welcome her. Although later ordained a deacon in the Church of England he was troubled as to where his religious future lay and in fifteen-seventy-one (1571) he crossed the English Channel where he formally rejoined the Catholic Church at the English College, Douai.
Soon afterwards he joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in Rome in fifteen-seventy-eight (1578). It was just over a year later that, disguised as a jewel merchant, Edmund Campion landed at Dover and began his priestly ministry, working initially among Catholic prisoners in London.
He certainly did not keep a low profile, and he very courageously wrote and publicised a challenge to the Privy Council, which came to be known as ‘Campion’s Brag’! In it he described his mission as one “of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors; in brief to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear
countrymen are abused.”
Subsequently, his printing and his preaching were so effective that the government simply could not afford to ignore him. He was constantly on the move, working in Yorkshire; here in Lancashire, as you well know, and in the Midlands, usually in disguise. Finally he was arrested at Lyford Grange in Berkshire, imprisoned in the Tower of London and tortured.
At his trial, and in spite of an extremely effective defence, he was condemned to death. His loyalty to the Queen was clear throughout. His only offence was his religion. On this day in fifteen-eighty-one (1581), along with Saints Alexander Bryant and Ralph Sherwin, Edmund Campion was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in London.
Father Tigar concluded his short account of Campion’s martyrdom with these words. “Told to ask the Queen’s forgiveness and pray for her, he answered,’I have and do pray for her.’ Lord Howard demanded to know what Queen he prayed for. ‘For Elizabeth, your Queen and my Queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity.’ These were his last words.”
Perhaps the lesson which his life offers us is that our private faith cannot fail, rightly understood, to have its effect in our public lives.
Nowadays, when we face an aggressive secularistic and relativistic society, Saint Edmund reminds us that our relationship with the Lord should shape and enlighten our words and actions, not only in chapel but in the marketplace too.
The challenge we all face is to live our faith in the concrete circumstances of our personal, social and business lives. To act morally and with integrity. Unlike Saint Edmund Campion, we will probably not be called to the shedding of our blood, nonetheless, our words and actions are important for our families, friends and those persons whom we encounter each day. As we know this is at times difficult. It will call for us to find a spirit of generosity and unselfishness, not just to make this world a better place, but to prepare ourselves for that fullness of love for which we are made, which we call ‘heaven’ or ‘the vision of God.’
Many of you here are in the early stages of your lives and your careers. The future, under God, is yours to decide. Many of you, I am sure, will go on to have successful careers in the world, and will find yourselves married and, God willing, parents. I pray that in all that you do you may bring Our Lord’s presence and teaching to bear. If you are called to marriage, I would emphasise to you just how important that vocation is, for we need good and generous married couples and families to show, in a concrete way, the reality of God’s love, in service to others.
It is also my experience that good Priests and Religious come from good families and are supported by them. Good families, in turn, are supported and sustained by the example and lives of good Religious and Priests. Perhaps too, even at this moment, some of you may, like Saint Edmund Campion, be wondering if God is calling you to the Priesthood or Religious life. If this call is not for you, it may possibly be made to your children. When and if that time comes, please do encourage them in their turn to be generous.
Today, I would also wish to pay tribute to the work of the Jesuits especially in the field of education. We do well to reflect on the call to fidelity and constancy exemplified by Saint Edmund Campion and the many martyrs of England and Wales, and as we give thanks, we cannot fail to realise too, that professing the Faith in our Country is not likely to become easier for us.
I will conclude with the words of Saint Edmund Campion himself, who said at his execution: “I am a catholic man and a priest; in that faith have I lived and in that faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then I am guilty; as for other treason – I never committed any, God is my judge.”
Saint Edmund Campion…Pray for us.
Source: Timothy Alton, House of Lords UK