At a special Mass to welcome the new Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Cardinal Vincent Nichols described the Catholics of England and Wales as “a faithful people” with a “depth of faith in our history and in our hearts.”
Just hours after presenting his credentials to the newly crowned King Charles III, His Excellency Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendía attended a Westminster Cathedral Mass of welcome on the solemnity of The Ascension of the Lord, 18 May.
The Apostolic Nuncio is the personal representative of Pope Francis to the Court of St James’s – the royal court for the Sovereign of the UK. His role is equivalent to that of an ambassador, representing the Holy See to the UK Government.
Cardinal Nichols said a new nuncio is a “gift” to us all and “a way of strengthening our communion with Peter and of us taking our place in the Catholic Church throughout the world.”
Ascension Thursday, Westminster Cathedral, 18 May 2023
The Gospel passage this evening, from the Gospel of St Matthew, records the event at the end of Jesus’ life and provokes us to ponder deeply on its meaning.
Here, Matthew tells us, is the moment in which the Church, in the figures of the eleven disciples, receives its great mission: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). The earthly life of Jesus is ending, the great adventure is beginning.
Yet here, too, Matthew tells us that among those chosen eleven there were some who were far from sure. Remember the words: ‘When they saw him they fell down, though some hesitated’ (Matthew 28:17). Even at this great moment of fulfilment, there is doubt: some of those closest to the Lord, who had been with him from the beginning, hesitated.
Hearing this we might remember some of the drama of the beginning of the Gospel of St Matthew: the hesitation of Joseph, suddenly faced with the pregnancy of Mary, which he did not understand; the searching of the Magi, who travelled far to find the child and who then ‘fell down’ on their knees before him. These are the Three Wise Men. The message is clear: those who are wise recognise in Jesus the unique Saviour of mankind. Yet, even at the end, some of the disciples still lack that wisdom.
The first Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, told us more about this hesitation. In this account of the Ascension, we learn that the disciples are still not clear about what it is all about: ‘Lord’, they said, ‘has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6). The great mission, then, is delivered to people who are far from sure about the task they are to accomplish.
So if, at times, we too feel uncertain, somewhat hesitant about what exactly we are to do in any given moment in fulfilment of our mission, or how this kingdom is to come about, then we should not be too dismayed. Rather than worry about our inadequacies, we take comfort from the additional words of Jesus: ‘Know that I am with you always; yes to the end of time.’
Always and everywhere, our mission is accompanied by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts come in abundance, even as we have been hearing in these days since Easter. Jesus leaves us to go to his Heavenly Father in order to ensure that the Spirit will be with us always, equipping us for the mission we have received. St Paul tells us so in his words to the Ephesians when he says that the spirit of wisdom, given by the ‘Father of glory’ will ‘enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you … and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers’ (Ephesians 1:17).
The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is given not only to teach us but also, constantly, to put a new heart into us. And this gift is given to the Church in so many different ways. One expression, or form, of this gift of the Paraclete, is the particular charism given to the Church in the ministry of Peter. We recall that Jesus gave to Peter, three times, the task of feeding his flock, of sustaining the Church, of being its rock. And this is passed on, in the chain of succession, to the Bishop of Rome whose charism it is, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to confirm, strengthen and guide the Church.
The bonds between the Bishop of Rome, our Holy Father, and the Catholics of this country have always been strong. They continue to be so. We are a faithful people. There are many in our history who have given their lives, their wealth, their health, to maintain this fidelity and witness to it. One lies here in the Cathedral, our own martyr, Saint John Southworth, whom we venerate and honour with great love.
It is, then, with this depth of faith – in our history and in our hearts – that this evening we welcome our new Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendía, sent among us as the personal representative of Pope Francis. Your Excellency, dear Archbishop, you are most welcome and we assure you of our prayers for you, now and throughout your years of service to the Apostolic See.
My brothers and sisters, our new Nuncio is a gift to us, a way of strengthening our communion with Peter and of us taking our place in the Catholic Church throughout the world. And through our prayers and support, we will be a gift to him as he strives to fulfil his role as the Holy Father’s Ambassador to the Court of St James, a diplomat to His Majesty’s Government, bringing into the sphere of world affairs all the experience and enormous reach of the Holy See.
Your Excellency, you are most welcome. It is a privilege for us to be celebrating together this day of the Church’s mission to the world. We look forward with anticipation to the moment at the end of Mass in which your mandate is formally presented and to the words you will speak to us.
But for now, without hesitation, let us recall with praise the rising to heaven of our Blessed Lord, knowing that where our Head has gone, we, his faithful Body, at his command, will most certainly follow. Let us continue with our celebration of the wonder of his presence among us, in and through these most sacred mysteries of this Holy Mass.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Archbishop of Westminster