Thursday 7 February 2019 6:48 AM UTC
By Alison Rebello
Newcastle Feb 7: EXACTLY at the time of the noon Angelus in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome the announcement of the 14th Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, Bishop Robert Byrne was made in the Cathedral Church of St Mary’s Newcastle. The announcement was made at 11am on 4th February by the Diocesan Press Officer Monsignor Andrew Faley. He said: “The Holy See today announced that Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Robert Byrne as Bishop of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.”
Bishop Byrne succeeds The Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham, who has been the Bishop of the diocese since 2009. Bishop Byrne was born in Manchester on 22 September 1956. He was ordained priest in 1985 and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Birmingham on 13 May 2014, responsible for four deaneries of Birmingham and 2 deaneries of Worcestershire.
Speaking on the occasion Bishop Cunningham said: “I am delighted to welcome Bishop Byrne as my successor at a time of great challenge and hope in this Diocese. The Lord Jesus is leading us along a road of rich discernment for the future of the church and its mission. I know that the priests, deacons, religious and people of the diocese will warmly welcome him and assure him of our prayers. May the Lord bless his ministry among us. We commend him to Mary the Mother of God, St Cuthbert and all the saints of our Diocese. I have therefore been appointed as Apostolic Administrator, by Pope Francis, until Bishop Byrne’s installation. So now I must decrease and he must increase.”
The Right Reverend Robert Byrne C.O. (Congregatio Oratorii) is an Oratorian priest. His society is known as Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, where he started his ministry in the Birmingham Oratory, co-founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman. When a new oratory was created in Oxford he went to be part of that oratory in Oxford. Collectively they are known as Oratorian Fathers.
It is interesting to note that prior to Bishop Robert Byrne, the late Bishop Ambrose Griffiths, a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict was the only priest from an Order of religious who became a Bishop of this diocese. The other interesting fact is that Bishop Byrne is the second appointment to come from the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The late Bishop Kevin Dunn, whom Bishop Cunningham succeeded, was also from the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Speaking of his appointment, Bishop Byrne said: “I am deeply humbled by the trust Pope Francis placed in me with this appointment as Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. I would like to thank the people of the Archdiocese of Birmingham where I have served for the past five years and, in particular, Archbishop Bernard Longley for his constant kindness and support.”
“I look forward to making my home in the North East, with its rich Christian heritage and also getting to know and serve the people, deacons, religious and priests of the Diocese. I ask all of you to keep me in your prayers as I pray for you.”
He further added: “When we went recently to meet Pope Francis with Bishops from England and Wales, he had the opportunity to ask Pope a question. This was: “Can you give us a message for our diocese?” To which Pope Francis replied: “Tell them about the deep joy of being with Christ!”
Bishop Byrne said: “I have already done that in the diocese where I am now and I deeply believe that Jesus Christ has a message for the world. I want to be an instrument for the people in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, to get to know the civic society here, the Anglican bishops, clergy, laity and others within the North East.”
Showing his Oratorian charism of ‘spirituality of everyday life’ the Bishop expressed his concern about the situation of Nissan in Sunderland and added that he will always be willing to meet people in the margins.
During photo shoot around Cathedral he also shook hands with mass-goers who were beginning to assemble at the Cathedral for 12.05pm mass and he simply surprised them by introducing himself as the new Bishop of the diocese. Many of them were surprised and got up in awe, some out of respect and one of them even kissed his ring when he approached and showed his warmth and simple demeanour.
When asked to comment on the first Papal visit to UAE he said: “we must always be ready to talk, there are things that divide us as Christians and non Christians. If we respect each other we gain so much out of it.”
On his leisure time involvements he said he loves theatre, opera and walking and added that given the vast coastline here in the north east that will be something to explore.
As the future shepherd of the flock of Hexham and Newcastle, he concluded that he would go about taking care of the priests as the priests take care of the people under their care. He said he is not averse to asking questions and added that he will not be shy to seek sage advice from Bishop Seamus as and when he needs it, during the course of his ministry as Bishop.
He has chosen to make his final move from Birmingham to Newcastle on St Cuthbert’s feast day- Hexham and Newcastle’s patron saint- on March 20 and will be installed as the 14th Bishop on the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25.
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