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Pastoral Letter

Pastoral Letter

to be read at all Masses

in the Archdiocese of Liverpool

on the Feast of the Holy Family

27 December 2020

Dear Friends,

No one can fail to be moved by the heart-wrenching accounts of families

that have been tragically affected by the coronavirus. At a time when

families come together to celebrate the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ,

families are not only mourning their loved ones who have died from this

dreadful virus but are often separated from their children, parents or

grandparents because of the vital need to keep safe. One of the

paradoxes of modern life is that as belief in the reason for Christmas

declines the feast grows in importance because of its emphasis on family.

Family as a constant feature in our lives is as important as ever.

Therefore, it seems appropriate that today we celebrate the feast of the

Holy Family to ask for blessings on our own families.

We can learn a lot from the fact that the origins of the devotion to the

Holy Family are seventeenth century North America. Early settlers in

Canada were separated from their families by great distances and the

Atlantic Ocean. The chances of them ever returning home were slim; and

there was little possibility of being reunited with parents, brothers, sisters

and cousins. Furthermore, despite the best efforts of the Church in

sending priests and religious sisters to the New World to care for the

settlers, many faithful Catholics would receive little pastoral care and

have few opportunities to receive the sacraments and attend Mass. The

prayer life of the family was the backbone of the Church and this had to

be supported in every possible way. Family prayers such as the rosary,

and reading from the family bible held families, and indeed the Church,

together through terrible times. Pope Leo XIII recognised this when he

instituted the feast we are celebrating today and another pope, Pope

Benedict XV, made it a worldwide celebration. Nowadays, with email, the

internet, Zoom and Skype the world has become very small and families

spread throughout the world can communicate in a way which was

unimaginable in past centuries. Nevertheless, family life is strained by

many different pressures, not only the coronavirus.

This is felt none more so than by refugees, who experience acutely the

dislocation of family life through war or persecution, but also by those

who seek a different life through migration. According to the United

Nations there are over 45 million refugees in the world today that have

had to leave their homes and often their countries as well because of war.

Five times that number of people migrate in search of a better life for their


The Holy Family itself experienced the same pressure of dislocation, and

today’s gospel is a reminder that difficulties are never far away. The story

of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple tells us that, even as Mary and

Joseph bring gifts of turtle doves in thanksgiving to God for the gift of their

son, and are united in joy at Simeon’s prophecy of the greatness of Jesus,

Mary is warned by Simeon that a sword will pierce her own soul too. So it

was that Joseph and Mary experienced the anxiety which is often shared

by many parents about their children. Yet we also begin to understand

Jesus’ identity and relationship with his heavenly Father – a relationship

which inevitably involves pain and suffering for his family as well as


To know, however, that Jesus, Mary and Joseph, despite all the odds,

were able to establish family life gives us great hope and strength. This

devotion reminds us that our Catholic faith grows in our homes through

the parents’ love for each other and for their children. As we are drawn

into this love, on reflection, we can see the presence of Jesus as an

additional member of our family, guiding, supporting and loving each of

us. For this reason, we can be sure that Jesus dwells in all our families,

giving families the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to

rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one

another’s burdens, and to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for

Christ’ (Eph. 5:21).

That is the mystery that we celebrate in this feast. I say ‘mystery’ because

in a Church sense, mystery means a sign that recognises the present

reality and yet points to an ideal life in Christ. The crisis we are enduring

as a Church has shown us that the heart of the Church is in family life, and

the loving face of the Church in reaching out to those who are needy or

lonely begins in our families and the family of the parish community.

The presence of Jesus in our families is seen in the many signs of hope

which are around us. I see this hope in action when I visit our Catholic

schools and see how much the children are loved by their parents who go

to enormous lengths to ensure a Catholic education for their children. In

our parishes there are always young children at Mass, and especially at

Christmas. Our youth ministry through Animate engages with children

and teenagers as their gift of faith is developed in many ways. So, I am not

discouraged. On the contrary, the children and their parents inspire me

even though these are difficult times to raise a family. While I am well

aware that family life is not simple, I also know that the love that is deep

within a family is possible, because that love is an expression of God’s love

for us.

May the new year ahead be a time of unity, peace and health as we pray

that the Lord blesses you and your families.

Fr. Peter Charles Crowther obl. sbso | The Presbytery, Bury Lane, Withnell, Chorley, PR6 8SD | Tel 01254 830 995 | Reg Charity: 232709


© 2021 St Joseph's Catholic Church, Withnell. All Rights Reserved.

The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP

Archbishop of Liverpool

Archbishop’s House




God Our Father,

each person is precious to You.

You are the Giver of life.

Have mercy on us and protect us

at this time, as the Coronavirus

threatens health and life.

You are an ever-present Helper

in time of trouble.

Watch over those who are

suffering, give strength to those

who are aiding the Sick and give courage

to all in this time of anxiety.

We ask this of you in the name of your Son

Jesus Christ. AMEN.