Sally Magnusson talks to the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, as he shares his memories of being a young priest in Wigan.
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In the early 1970s, a young priest came here
to the John Rigby College in Wigan to be their new chaplain.
It was his first job.
That plain-speaking northern lad went on
to become Archbishop of Westminster.
And now, as a newly appointed cardinal,
he'll have a hand in choosing the next Pope.
We take Cardinal Vincent Nichols on a trip back in time
to share his vision for the Catholic Church.
Our hymns and songs come from St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith,
where our new church detective discovers a precious relic,
and singer Laurie Ashworth performs.
I'm in Liverpool, not far from where Vincent Nichols was born in 1945.
Fast forward a few decades,
and he's now the leader of the Roman Catholic Church
in England and Wales. He's come here for a short visit,
and I've come to take him to the nearby town,
where his ministry began. We're off to Wigan.
-Here's our taxi.
Well, we're on our way now to the sixth form college in Wigan
-where you had your first job.
-Yes, it is.
I arrived at about 3:45, which was a very bad time,
because 600 teenagers were coming out,
and I was trying to go in.
I thought, "What on earth have I come to?"
Never had a full-time chaplain before,
so I didn't really know what to do all day.
But, eventually, I came up with a kind of job description,
and it was very simple. I was there to loiter with intent,
just to walk with people, just to accompany them a bit.
And I think that's a very important theme
in the ministry of any Catholic priest,
and quite a lot of the students are still in touch with me today.
Can I take you back now to the point that led to the decision
that actually took you to that school,
which is why you became a priest?
Well, I can remember on a number of occasions being at Anfield
and watching Liverpool playing, and just really shouting at God,
saying, "Will you please leave me alone?"
"I don't want to do this. I just want to be one of the crowd.
"I don't want this sense of having to step apart
"and do something different."
So I remember, for example, my older brother Peter,
the night before I was to be ordained a priest,
and we were sitting in a hotel near the college in Rome,
and he said to me, "What are you getting ordained a priest for?"
So I said, "Well, Peter, it's a bit late to ask that question!
"It's in the morning." And I said, "Well,
"because I think it makes sense of who I know myself to be."
So it's that defining sense of purpose
that you think you have in life.
But I must admit, I would never regret it.
It has actually been, I suspect,
the one thing in life that has really made me happy.
Really deeply content.
I'm deeply content being a priest. It's right for me.
As the college prepares to welcome its old chaplain,
we'll be back later to find out how the cardinal tackles
questions from today's students.
But now for our first hymn, from St Oswald and
St Edmund Arrowsmith Church just up the road.
Think of Wigan, and you might think of Wigan Pier.
Of course, there's no coastline here and no obvious pier.
The origin of the phrase is a matter of debate.
The pier was probably a simple wooden jetty
used to load coal from a nearby colliery.
According to folklore, someone looking out of a train to Southport
saw it and said, "Where are we?" and was told, "Wigan Pier."
For some reason, the joke stuck.
Then, in 1937, George Orwell wrote this book, The Road To Wigan Pier,
a fairly brutal look at the working class communities
of Britain in the 1930s,
particularly those affected by the coal industry.
Orwell writes of his fondness for Wigan,
disappointed only that "Wigan Pier has been demolished,
"and even the spot where it used to stand is no longer certain."
Wiganers are known as "pie-eaters".
'Once again, nobody knows why for sure.'
'One theory dates back to 1926,
'when a general strike brought the country to a standstill.
'In Wigan, the collieries were said
'to have starved the men back down the pit.'
With no money and nothing to eat,
the workers were forced to eat humble pie, and so the tale goes,
they've been known as "pie-eaters" ever since.
The legacy of the coal-mining industry is felt
everywhere around here.
A century ago, Lancashire's pits produced
26 million tonnes of coal each year.
Now there's just one colliery left in the whole of Lancashire,
here at Astley Green. And even it's closed.
It stands as a museum to the industry,
an industry fraught with danger.
And Wigan was the site of a major disaster in 1979.
A gas explosion at Golborne Colliery killed ten miners.
Engineer Eric Foster was there.
We were working that Sunday morning,
me and my colleagues, and all of a sudden,
we heard this tremendous thud.
I was at the pit bottom at the time.
We realised that, when there's smoke coming towards us,
we saw that morning, there could be fire behind it,
flames, so we dove into where our tool boxes were,
and pandemonium broke out.
From then on, we went in and tried to get the men out.
When we got to the area where the explosion was,
this huge girder was across the tunnel,
so we had to physically push it back in the tunnel
while we got the manriders ready to bring the men out.
'The 11 men were working on electrical switchgear
'and ventilation equipment.'
And then, at 11:25,
methane which had built up in the tunnel suddenly ignited.
And you lost ten colleagues?
Ten men. Yeah. And one was a good friend.
You know, one electrician. Was always laughing.
The Golborne Colliery is long gone,
and the site now contains business units,
but this community doesn't want Wigan families
to forget those who braved the coal mines.
Members of the community have gathered in a procession
to remember those who lost their lives in Golborne.
For Eric, his faith continues to help,
as it did on the day of the tragedy.
Some lads were killed outright. Some were in hospital,
and the least I could do was go and say my prayers for them.
You think of the lads, don't you? Who you knew, and what you did.
And you do get overcome by it.
In a moment, we'll have a performance
-from local soprano Laurie Ashworth.
Hi, Laurie. Ready for later?
But Laurie doesn't just sing in churches.
She and her father Mike share a love of Wigan Athletic Football Club.
-And they're more than just fans.
At the football, I'm going to be providing
the pre-match entertainment,
and I will be singing Puccini's Nessun Dorma.
My association with Wigan Athletic is quite long-standing.
My dad has been the club doctor for, I think, about 32 years.
Yeah, you'll be fine, OK?
My prime duty is on match days.
It's to sit at the side of the pitch
and be available for any medical emergencies.
I've been doing this job for over 32 years, and during that time,
obviously, there's a potential for a lot of serious injuries,
but fingers crossed and touch wood, it doesn't happen very often.
Wigan's a very community-minded town,
and I think that's reflected in the football club.
And next to me is this beautiful trophy, the FA Cup,
won by Wigan Athletic last year.
It was the best day of my life.
I was baptised in St Oswald's Church in Ashton-in-Makerfield,
which was our local parish.
My mum brought both my sister and I up as Catholics,
and it was a very important upbringing for us.
And it's definitely shaped how I behave in my adult life.
# Nessun dorma
# Nessun dorma... #
Performing in a church is wonderful. It's a wonderful experience.
Very spiritual experience, really.
Performing in front of the fans at the football, it can be...
Well, it's more nerve-racking. I don't have any music,
which I can fall back on when I'm performing in church.
# Ma il mio mistero e chiuso in me... #
I have on occasion been jeered by the away fans.
It's true. Spurs fans!
I would hope that my singing inspires others.
The music definitely inspires me,
and I think music has this power
to bring people together and to heal people.
HOLDS LONG NOTE
# May the Lord show his mercy upon you
# May the light of his presence be your guide
# May he guard you and uphold you
# May his spirit be ever by your side
# When you sleep, may his angels watch over you
# When you wake, may he fill you with his grace
# May you love him and serve him all your days
# Then in heaven may you see his face
# May the Lord's loving kindness surround you
# Keep you safe as you journey on your way
# May he lead you and inspire you
# As he grants you the gift of each new day
# May he bless all your loved ones and cherish them
# Ev'ry friend, ev'ry stranger at your door
# In the name of his Son our Saviour Christ
# May God bless you now and ever-more
# Bless you now and ever-more. #
A Clare Benediction, performed by Laurie Ashworth
at the beautiful St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith Church in Ashton.
But what secrets does this church conceal to an expert eye?
Richard Taylor is our church detective.
As a Christian and lifelong churchgoer,
I've always been fascinated
by church buildings and what they mean,
and this one is an absolute cracker.
It's the sort of building that you might find on the Continent,
somewhere in southern Europe.
So what's it doing here, just outside Wigan?
This is magnificent, and intriguing.
This is a style of architecture known as Romanesque.
In Britain, we're much more used to a style called Gothic,
where you've got pointed arches
and stone carvings in the middle, but here, the arches are all round,
covered by these delicate little chevrons.
My first task is to find out when it was built.
Well, this is the foundation stone, and this tells you the date.
So why was it built in 1925?
This was a prosperous area at that time.
Maybe there was just an influx of new workers,
and they just needed more space.
Now, this is a surprise.
These are stained-glass windows by the Irish artist Harry Clarke.
You can tell, because he always used to work
in these deep reds and vivid greens.
I wonder if there's a connection with Ireland?
I think this is a place for which martyrdom is important.
You've got three stained-glass windows here,
and at each of their feet is a scene of horrible violence.
And they're all set in the 17th century,
in that period of strife between Catholics and Protestants,
but I've got to tell you, I'm ending up with a lot of loose ends.
Local expert John Francis is on hand to provide some answers.
Well, the church replaces the original church,
which was built on this site in 1820.
-Completely different design.
-But really pretty.
The old church was getting too small.
-Lots of people coming into the area?
-Indeed. The area had become
more populated due to the influx of miners and metalworkers.
Who actually did the building on the church?
They were the local miners.
And the unemployed who were out on strike,
because it was the era of the general strike.
-In the late '20s.
-So that's the 1925 connection.
-They effectively built their own church.
'John also explained that there was an Irish connection.
'The priest at the time, Canon O'Mara, was Irish.
'But I could never have guessed the reason behind this Romanesque style.'
The story goes that the architect, Brocklesby,
went on holiday to France
and was very much taken with the French Romanesque designs.
-So the whole place is a sort of holiday tour present?
-Very much so.
And is there a connection with the church
I mean, this area of South West Lancashire
produced quite a number of the English martyrs,
including St Edmund Arrowsmith.
He was hung, drawn and quartered at Lancaster in the 17th century,
-and we hold the relic of his right hand.
-Here in the church.
Now, this is the treasure of St Edmund Arrowsmith.
Gosh, I hardly know what to say.
How do you use the relic nowadays?
It is used to give blessings to the sick,
but anybody can come to the church and request the parish priest
to give them a blessing with the holy hand.
-Well, thank you very much for sharing it with us.
In Deum potentis...
In February, Archbishop Vincent Nichols
was formally elevated to the College of Cardinals
by Pope Francis in a ceremony in Rome.
Now, he's back in Wigan, on a visit to St John Rigby College,
where his ministry began over 40 years ago.
I know you are!
# With roots to grow and wings to fly... #
I greeted you this morning.
-I noticed the ring that you have.
I got this from Pope Francis on February 22.
And so, this is the ring of a cardinal.
OK? Now, do you want to have a look at it?
So, in St Peter, you've got this image of the solidity of faith.
So there's something rock-like about Peter and about our faith.
Paul was the great adventurer, the great missionary,
the one who had a drive that kept him going,
travelling, on and on and on.
And Mary, as it were, reflects the light of Christ to us
in a very warm and personal and motherly way.
Have a look. Pass it round.
How do you see yourself? Do you see yourself any different?
Well, I'm very conscious that people see me differently,
and I think I have to grow into this a bit, yeah.
I have a sense that being a Cardinal
gives me greater profile,
and a greater access,
and I think people are more attentive to what I say.
And on that occasion, that glorious occasion for you,
the pinnacle so far of your priesthood, in a way,
is there a bit of you that's saying to yourself,
"I'm just a wee boy from Liverpool"?
Oh, yes, absolutely.
He said in his letter that he sent to us,
"Please do not think of this as a promotion.
"Please do not think of it as an honour.
"Please think of it as an opportunity to serve."
And so in that sense, it's in absolute continuity
with where I started out wanting to be a priest.
But just in a different framework, in a different setting.
We'd like to present you with a memento.
It's got the college motto on the front.
Now, who's not had a go? You've not had a go yet.
I was wondering if you've any future visions or hopes?
Four or five years ago, people would often happily say,
and would be proud to say, "Oh, I'm a lapsed Catholic."
Now, I think today, people are saying, "Actually, I'm a Catholic."
So I'd like to see more confidence in the life of faith,
in the Catholic way of life.
I'd like to see us, all of YOU, you know,
really confident about your faith.
Let us pray.
Visit, we beseech thee, oh Lord, this house and family,
and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy.
May your holy angels dwell herein, who may keep us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us, through Christ, our Lord.
And may the blessing of Almighty God, father, son, and holy spirit,
come upon you and remain with you tonight and always.
There's a real sense of confidence when you visit Wigan.
Of course, this might be something to do with the fact that
Wigan Athletic is defending its FA trophy next weekend
but, appropriately, our final hymn
is about having the courage of our convictions.
It's Bunyan's famous Who Would True Valour See.
Next week, it's Palm Sunday, and Pam's in Bradford
to explore what Holy Week means for some remarkable people.
Tom Courtenay reads the Bible's account
of the days before Jesus' crucifixion.
Pam introduces hymns from the city's cathedral,
and there's a special performance by Beth Nielsen Chapman.
Sally Magnusson is in conversation with the recently appointed head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, as he shares his memories of being a young priest in Wigan and talks about his hopes for the future. With music from the St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith RC Church in Ashton-in-Makerfield.