Wigan Songs of Praise


Wigan

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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Transcript


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In the early 1970s, a young priest came here

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to the John Rigby College in Wigan to be their new chaplain.

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It was his first job.

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That plain-speaking northern lad went on

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to become Archbishop of Westminster.

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And now, as a newly appointed cardinal,

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he'll have a hand in choosing the next Pope.

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We take Cardinal Vincent Nichols on a trip back in time

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to share his vision for the Catholic Church.

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Our hymns and songs come from St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith,

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where our new church detective discovers a precious relic,

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and singer Laurie Ashworth performs.

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I'm in Liverpool, not far from where Vincent Nichols was born in 1945.

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Fast forward a few decades,

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and he's now the leader of the Roman Catholic Church

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in England and Wales. He's come here for a short visit,

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and I've come to take him to the nearby town,

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where his ministry began. We're off to Wigan.

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-Here's our taxi.

-Good.

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Well, we're on our way now to the sixth form college in Wigan

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-where you had your first job.

-Yes, it is.

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I arrived at about 3:45, which was a very bad time,

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because 600 teenagers were coming out,

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and I was trying to go in.

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I thought, "What on earth have I come to?"

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Never had a full-time chaplain before,

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so I didn't really know what to do all day.

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But, eventually, I came up with a kind of job description,

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and it was very simple. I was there to loiter with intent,

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just to walk with people, just to accompany them a bit.

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And I think that's a very important theme

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in the ministry of any Catholic priest,

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and quite a lot of the students are still in touch with me today.

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Can I take you back now to the point that led to the decision

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that actually took you to that school,

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which is why you became a priest?

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Well, I can remember on a number of occasions being at Anfield

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and watching Liverpool playing, and just really shouting at God,

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saying, "Will you please leave me alone?"

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"I don't want to do this. I just want to be one of the crowd.

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"I don't want this sense of having to step apart

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"and do something different."

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So I remember, for example, my older brother Peter,

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the night before I was to be ordained a priest,

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and we were sitting in a hotel near the college in Rome,

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and he said to me, "What are you getting ordained a priest for?"

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So I said, "Well, Peter, it's a bit late to ask that question!

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"It's in the morning." And I said, "Well,

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"because I think it makes sense of who I know myself to be."

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So it's that defining sense of purpose

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that you think you have in life.

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But I must admit, I would never regret it.

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It has actually been, I suspect,

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the one thing in life that has really made me happy.

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Really deeply content.

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I'm deeply content being a priest. It's right for me.

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As the college prepares to welcome its old chaplain,

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we'll be back later to find out how the cardinal tackles

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questions from today's students.

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But now for our first hymn, from St Oswald and

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St Edmund Arrowsmith Church just up the road.

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Think of Wigan, and you might think of Wigan Pier.

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Of course, there's no coastline here and no obvious pier.

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The origin of the phrase is a matter of debate.

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The pier was probably a simple wooden jetty

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used to load coal from a nearby colliery.

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According to folklore, someone looking out of a train to Southport

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saw it and said, "Where are we?" and was told, "Wigan Pier."

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For some reason, the joke stuck.

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Then, in 1937, George Orwell wrote this book, The Road To Wigan Pier,

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a fairly brutal look at the working class communities

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of Britain in the 1930s,

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particularly those affected by the coal industry.

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Orwell writes of his fondness for Wigan,

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disappointed only that "Wigan Pier has been demolished,

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"and even the spot where it used to stand is no longer certain."

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Wiganers are known as "pie-eaters".

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'Once again, nobody knows why for sure.'

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Hello.

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'One theory dates back to 1926,

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'when a general strike brought the country to a standstill.

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'In Wigan, the collieries were said

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'to have starved the men back down the pit.'

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With no money and nothing to eat,

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the workers were forced to eat humble pie, and so the tale goes,

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they've been known as "pie-eaters" ever since.

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Ooh! Lovely.

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The legacy of the coal-mining industry is felt

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everywhere around here.

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A century ago, Lancashire's pits produced

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26 million tonnes of coal each year.

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Now there's just one colliery left in the whole of Lancashire,

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here at Astley Green. And even it's closed.

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It stands as a museum to the industry,

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an industry fraught with danger.

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And Wigan was the site of a major disaster in 1979.

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A gas explosion at Golborne Colliery killed ten miners.

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Engineer Eric Foster was there.

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We were working that Sunday morning,

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me and my colleagues, and all of a sudden,

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we heard this tremendous thud.

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I was at the pit bottom at the time.

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We realised that, when there's smoke coming towards us,

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we saw that morning, there could be fire behind it,

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flames, so we dove into where our tool boxes were,

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and pandemonium broke out.

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From then on, we went in and tried to get the men out.

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When we got to the area where the explosion was,

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this huge girder was across the tunnel,

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so we had to physically push it back in the tunnel

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while we got the manriders ready to bring the men out.

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'The 11 men were working on electrical switchgear

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'and ventilation equipment.'

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And then, at 11:25,

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methane which had built up in the tunnel suddenly ignited.

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And you lost ten colleagues?

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Ten men. Yeah. And one was a good friend.

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You know, one electrician. Was always laughing.

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The Golborne Colliery is long gone,

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and the site now contains business units,

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but this community doesn't want Wigan families

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to forget those who braved the coal mines.

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Members of the community have gathered in a procession

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to remember those who lost their lives in Golborne.

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For Eric, his faith continues to help,

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as it did on the day of the tragedy.

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Some lads were killed outright. Some were in hospital,

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and the least I could do was go and say my prayers for them.

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You think of the lads, don't you? Who you knew, and what you did.

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And you do get overcome by it.

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In a moment, we'll have a performance

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-from local soprano Laurie Ashworth.

-Hi, Dad.

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Hi, Laurie. Ready for later?

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But Laurie doesn't just sing in churches.

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She and her father Mike share a love of Wigan Athletic Football Club.

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-Bye.

-And they're more than just fans.

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At the football, I'm going to be providing

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the pre-match entertainment,

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and I will be singing Puccini's Nessun Dorma.

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My association with Wigan Athletic is quite long-standing.

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My dad has been the club doctor for, I think, about 32 years.

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Yeah, you'll be fine, OK?

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My prime duty is on match days.

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It's to sit at the side of the pitch

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and be available for any medical emergencies.

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I've been doing this job for over 32 years, and during that time,

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obviously, there's a potential for a lot of serious injuries,

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but fingers crossed and touch wood, it doesn't happen very often.

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Wigan's a very community-minded town,

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and I think that's reflected in the football club.

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And next to me is this beautiful trophy, the FA Cup,

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won by Wigan Athletic last year.

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It was the best day of my life.

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I was baptised in St Oswald's Church in Ashton-in-Makerfield,

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which was our local parish.

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My mum brought both my sister and I up as Catholics,

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and it was a very important upbringing for us.

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And it's definitely shaped how I behave in my adult life.

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-ANNOUNCER:

-Laurie Ashworth!

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APPLAUSE

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# Nessun dorma

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# Nessun dorma... #

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Performing in a church is wonderful. It's a wonderful experience.

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Very spiritual experience, really.

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Performing in front of the fans at the football, it can be...

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Well, it's more nerve-racking. I don't have any music,

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which I can fall back on when I'm performing in church.

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# Ma il mio mistero e chiuso in me... #

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I have on occasion been jeered by the away fans.

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It's true. Spurs fans!

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SHE LAUGHS

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I would hope that my singing inspires others.

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The music definitely inspires me,

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and I think music has this power

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to bring people together and to heal people.

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HOLDS LONG NOTE

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CHEERING

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# May the Lord show his mercy upon you

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# May the light of his presence be your guide

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# May he guard you and uphold you

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# May his spirit be ever by your side

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# When you sleep, may his angels watch over you

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# When you wake, may he fill you with his grace

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# May you love him and serve him all your days

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# Then in heaven may you see his face

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# May the Lord's loving kindness surround you

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# Keep you safe as you journey on your way

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# May he lead you and inspire you

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# As he grants you the gift of each new day

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# May he bless all your loved ones and cherish them

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# Ev'ry friend, ev'ry stranger at your door

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# In the name of his Son our Saviour Christ

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# May God bless you now and ever-more

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# Bless you now and ever-more. #

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A Clare Benediction, performed by Laurie Ashworth

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at the beautiful St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith Church in Ashton.

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But what secrets does this church conceal to an expert eye?

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Richard Taylor is our church detective.

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As a Christian and lifelong churchgoer,

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I've always been fascinated

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by church buildings and what they mean,

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and this one is an absolute cracker.

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It's the sort of building that you might find on the Continent,

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somewhere in southern Europe.

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So what's it doing here, just outside Wigan?

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This is magnificent, and intriguing.

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This is a style of architecture known as Romanesque.

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In Britain, we're much more used to a style called Gothic,

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where you've got pointed arches

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and stone carvings in the middle, but here, the arches are all round,

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covered by these delicate little chevrons.

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My first task is to find out when it was built.

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Well, this is the foundation stone, and this tells you the date.

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MCMXXV.

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So why was it built in 1925?

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This was a prosperous area at that time.

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Maybe there was just an influx of new workers,

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and they just needed more space.

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Now, this is a surprise.

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These are stained-glass windows by the Irish artist Harry Clarke.

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You can tell, because he always used to work

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in these deep reds and vivid greens.

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I wonder if there's a connection with Ireland?

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I think this is a place for which martyrdom is important.

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You've got three stained-glass windows here,

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and at each of their feet is a scene of horrible violence.

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And they're all set in the 17th century,

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in that period of strife between Catholics and Protestants,

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but I've got to tell you, I'm ending up with a lot of loose ends.

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Local expert John Francis is on hand to provide some answers.

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Well, the church replaces the original church,

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which was built on this site in 1820.

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-Oh, yes.

-Completely different design.

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-But really pretty.

-Indeed.

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The old church was getting too small.

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-Lots of people coming into the area?

-Indeed. The area had become

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more populated due to the influx of miners and metalworkers.

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Who actually did the building on the church?

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They were the local miners.

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And the unemployed who were out on strike,

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because it was the era of the general strike.

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-Oh, wow.

-In the late '20s.

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-So that's the 1925 connection.

-That's right.

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-They effectively built their own church.

-That's amazing.

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'John also explained that there was an Irish connection.

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'The priest at the time, Canon O'Mara, was Irish.

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'But I could never have guessed the reason behind this Romanesque style.'

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The story goes that the architect, Brocklesby,

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went on holiday to France

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and was very much taken with the French Romanesque designs.

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HE LAUGHS

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-So the whole place is a sort of holiday tour present?

-Very much so.

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And is there a connection with the church

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-over martyrdom?

-There is.

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I mean, this area of South West Lancashire

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produced quite a number of the English martyrs,

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including St Edmund Arrowsmith.

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He was hung, drawn and quartered at Lancaster in the 17th century,

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-and we hold the relic of his right hand.

-Right!

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-Here in the church.

-Good heavens.

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Now, this is the treasure of St Edmund Arrowsmith.

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Gosh, I hardly know what to say.

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How do you use the relic nowadays?

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It is used to give blessings to the sick,

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but anybody can come to the church and request the parish priest

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to give them a blessing with the holy hand.

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-Well, thank you very much for sharing it with us.

-Thank you.

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In Deum potentis...

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In February, Archbishop Vincent Nichols

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was formally elevated to the College of Cardinals

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by Pope Francis in a ceremony in Rome.

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Now, he's back in Wigan, on a visit to St John Rigby College,

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where his ministry began over 40 years ago.

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I know you are!

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# With roots to grow and wings to fly... #

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I greeted you this morning.

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-I noticed the ring that you have.

-Oh, yeah?

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I got this from Pope Francis on February 22.

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And so, this is the ring of a cardinal.

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OK? Now, do you want to have a look at it?

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So, in St Peter, you've got this image of the solidity of faith.

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So there's something rock-like about Peter and about our faith.

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Paul was the great adventurer, the great missionary,

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the one who had a drive that kept him going,

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travelling, on and on and on.

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And Mary, as it were, reflects the light of Christ to us

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in a very warm and personal and motherly way.

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Have a look. Pass it round.

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THEY SING

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How do you see yourself? Do you see yourself any different?

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Well, I'm very conscious that people see me differently,

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and I think I have to grow into this a bit, yeah.

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I have a sense that being a Cardinal

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gives me greater profile,

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and a greater access,

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and I think people are more attentive to what I say.

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And on that occasion, that glorious occasion for you,

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the pinnacle so far of your priesthood, in a way,

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is there a bit of you that's saying to yourself,

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"I'm just a wee boy from Liverpool"?

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Oh, yes, absolutely.

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He said in his letter that he sent to us,

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"Please do not think of this as a promotion.

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"Please do not think of it as an honour.

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"Please think of it as an opportunity to serve."

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And so in that sense, it's in absolute continuity

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with where I started out wanting to be a priest.

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But just in a different framework, in a different setting.

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We'd like to present you with a memento.

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LAUGHTER

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It's got the college motto on the front.

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Now, who's not had a go? You've not had a go yet.

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I was wondering if you've any future visions or hopes?

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Four or five years ago, people would often happily say,

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and would be proud to say, "Oh, I'm a lapsed Catholic."

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Now, I think today, people are saying, "Actually, I'm a Catholic."

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So I'd like to see more confidence in the life of faith,

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in the Catholic way of life.

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I'd like to see us, all of YOU, you know,

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really confident about your faith.

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Let us pray.

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Visit, we beseech thee, oh Lord, this house and family,

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and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy.

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May your holy angels dwell herein, who may keep us in peace,

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and may your blessing be always upon us, through Christ, our Lord.

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-ALL:

-Amen.

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And may the blessing of Almighty God, father, son, and holy spirit,

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come upon you and remain with you tonight and always.

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Amen.

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There's a real sense of confidence when you visit Wigan.

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Of course, this might be something to do with the fact that

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Wigan Athletic is defending its FA trophy next weekend

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but, appropriately, our final hymn

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is about having the courage of our convictions.

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It's Bunyan's famous Who Would True Valour See.

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Next week, it's Palm Sunday, and Pam's in Bradford

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to explore what Holy Week means for some remarkable people.

0:33:260:33:29

Tom Courtenay reads the Bible's account

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of the days before Jesus' crucifixion.

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Pam introduces hymns from the city's cathedral,

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and there's a special performance by Beth Nielsen Chapman.

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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.


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