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Bishop Alan Hopes

Tonight we welcome into our Cathedral the replica of the famous and much venerated icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It was commissioned in January of this year to be a witness to the Gospel of Life and to the Civilisation of love – pro Life and pro Family.

It was solemnly blessed in the shrine at Jasna Gora in Poland and has been part of a pilgrimage since June, taking it from Vladivostok in Russia to Fatima by Christmas. It will make its way through many nations – from Ocean to Ocean – and will be a sign of healing, reconciliation and hope.

How appropriate that this Cathedral, the Mother Church of Catholics here in England and Wales, should be the first resting place for the Icon before she continues on her travels. From here the Icon will be brought to the Pan Orthodox Assembly of Bishops and priests in Great Britain and Ireland who will receive it at the Church of the Royal Martyrs in Chiswick. This has enormous significance as Christians of the two ancient Churches of East and West join together in prayer, entrusting to her maternal intercession a reclaiming of the dignity of human life and of respect and support for the Family and of a restoration of family values.

The distinctive features of Our Lady of Czestochowa make her instantly recognisable throughout the world. Her face is deeply darkened – so much so that she is known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. The blackness comes from a fire the soot of which penetrated the paint of the icon. Also on the face of Our Lady are two scars. They were inflicted during a raid on Jasna Gora, the monastery where the Icon is enshrined. The raid was carried out by a sect known as the Hussites, who plundered the shrine and stole the sacred image of Our Lady. They placed it on a wagon but the story tells us that the horses refused to move. The icon was thrown to the ground. The one of the plunderers drew his sword and, out of frustration and anger, inflicted two deep strikes on it. To this day, the Icon bears the scars of that attack. And there is a third scar - inflicted by the arrow of a Tartar invader which struck Our Lady’s image in the throat.

The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, then, has been the object of desecration, abuse and contempt. Scarred by assaults the message of this sacred image is a reminder in spite of anything man can do, the true beauty of God’s love will shine brightly.

How marred is our own world by such assaults on the dignity of human life – from the easy discarding of innocent lives in the tragedy of abortion, to the easy discarding of life as it nears its completion in the so called “right to die” and “mercy killing”. In a world which increasingly believes that it is in control of its own future and destiny, this cheapening of the value of human life leads to so many other indiscriminate killings of human beings through warfare, through crime and violence, through greed and self absorption.

So in the Litany of Our Lady of Czestochowa we shall invoke her prayers as the Mother of those who resist evil, the Mother of Orphans and the Mother of the mothers who weep. We bring to her our prayers tonight for all mothers who have suffered from the effects of abortion, those infants who have never seen the light of this world because they were killed through abortion, for all mothers who lose children because human life is not given its due respect and dignity.

How marred too, is our world by the assaults on the dignity and the sacred nature of marriage and family life. From the beginning God shows us that the family is a sacred unity given by him to provide stability for the human race. Jesus, God’s own Son, is born of a human mother. He is guided by her and by his foster father, Joseph. He is surrounded by the love and commitment of them both in the security of that loving family.

Today’s ideas of living with one another and entering into the commitment of marriage, the acceptance of unfaithfulness and sexual immorality, the provision in law of pre-nuptial agreements which is symptomatic of a general disregard for marriage, the proposed marriage of same sex couples – none of these can replace the ideal of the family – mother, father children - which God intends should provide stability for society as a whole. And where the family unit breaks down there are very real threats to the social order.

Let us pray fervently, today, before the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa that those who are in power will seek to uphold the dignity of human life until the tragedy of abortion and assisted killing is no more; and to support and strengthen the family and the values of family life.

May the Gospel of God ‘s love, always shining through human sin and the atrocities that we are capable of, shine also through this image of his wounded Mother as this Icon continues her Pilgrimage from Ocean to Ocean. May she inspire all who come to venerate her, to work and to pray for the Gospel of Life and the Civilisation of Love.

Our Lady of Czestochowa – Pray for us

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