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27 July 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 28-07-2014

Stand and deliver! Your money or your life! The highwayman invariably collected: life was more precious than any possession. Is there nothing more precious than life? Your faith, the pearl of great price..  In Christian tradition men and women have been prepared to die for their faith. I don’t often have the opportunity on Sunday of talking about our local martyrs because Sunday always takes precedence over their feasts. Just at this time of year we have a cluster of feasts in our diocesan calendar: on the 19th of July we commemorated our Lancashire martyrs - those born roughly between the Lune and the Ribble but executed elsewhere. There are eight of them, such as St John Plessington, born in Garstang and martyred at Chester. On July 24th we remembered the martyrs of Cumbria and on August 7th we celebrate the memory of those who died on the hill above Lancaster, wherever they were born. There were fourteen of them including Edward Bamber, born at Carleton in a house on the spot now occupied by our home for retired priests.

The death penalty for being a priest or harbouring a priest in England extended just over 100 years. There were three main phases.  The most severe period was the reign of Elizabeth. A priest had a one in three chance of capture. Cardinal Allen sent about three hundred men from our seminaries abroad; just over a hundred were caught and executed. Forty years after the death of Elizabeth the Civil War between Cavaliers and Roundheads was won, of course, by the Roundheads, the red-hot Puritans under Cromwell. Priests were hounded and when the war was over brought before the assizes. This was when Edward Bamber met his death at Lancaster in 1646. The final purge followed the Titus Oates plot. He was a nutter who nursed a grudge and invented a plot by Catholics to kill the king. Sadly he was believed and as a result of the hysteria twenty innocent men were put to death including St John Plessington in 1679.

You must be extremely detached if you are not aware of what is happening today in Iraq where the treatment of Christians in the area of Mosul stirs memories of the program carried out by the Nazis against the Jews.  Mosul is the ancient Nineveh and had one of the oldest of all Christian communities, living peacefully with Muslim neighbours. It has been taken over by ISIS, a group of Islamic fundamentalists. Christians were given an ultimatum - convert or pay a heavy tax and adopt Muslim customs or be killed - beheaded by the sword.  Ten years ago there were 35,000 Christians in Mosul, today there are none. Their houses were marked in red paint with the letter N for Nazarene. The crosses were removed from the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals and replaced by the black flag of ISIS, other churches have been burned. The departure of the Christians was not peaceful. At check points their cars and all their possessions were confiscated - even wedding rings removed from fingers - and they were left to walk miles in the heat to the nearest Christian village under the protection of the Kurds. When Catholics in England were being persecuted guilds were formed in Europe to pray and to offer whatever help was possible. It has been suggested that we remember to pray the Angelus to ask Our Lady’s intercession for them.

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