for a brief but important moment, something of the center of the Catholic world. The coastal city is the birthplace of Charles Dickens and was the starting point of the Allied landing in Normandy. It has also been the seat of a bishop since 1882, after over 300 years of prohibition,
the Catholic hierarchy could be rebuilt in England.
Since 2012, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, Msgr. Philip Anthony Egan heads the diocese with around 250,000 Catholics (eight percent of the population). Bishop Egan consecrated four Franciscans to priests in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist last July 5 - in the traditional rite.
The brothers of St. Francis of Assisi are former Franciscans of the Immaculata, who were incardinated by Bishop Egan into his diocese of Portsmouth.
The Order of the Franciscans of the Immaculata, founded by Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, has been suffering a great ordeal since the summer of 2013. The still young order, which looked back to the original charism of the order’s founder, was followed by Pope Benedict XVI. in the Motu proprio Summorum pontificum, and was transformed from a New Mass-religious order to an Old Rite order, since he was committed in his charism to tradition. But he remained subordinate, a complete exception, in the Roman Congregation of Religious. In pastoral care the Order was bi-ritual, in-house old-ritual. The canonical community, first established in 1990, grew rapidly and received considerable appointments from Europe as well. Towards the end of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, it seemed that the Franciscans of the Immaculata could even become a role model for other new rite-religious orders. It was especially the young members of other orders were interested in their way.
A few months after the papal change, however, came the turn. The protective hand of Benedict XVI. was replaced by the punitive hand of Francis. In July 2013, the Order's leadership was deposed by the Order's Congregation and the Order was placed under the administration of a Commissar without any reason. This raged in the Order and smashed much of what had been built. With the decree of the Commissar by Rome, the Order had been forbidden to perform the traditional Rite. This left no doubt against whom and what the hard measure was directed. All relevant decisions were declared null and void. Each priest had to apply individually for a special permit if he wanted to continue to celebrate in the traditional Rite. Monasteries were abolished, the internal seminary was closed and pilgrimage sites and churches entrusted to it were removed from the Order.
Against the founders of the Order and Superior General until the Commissar came, a slander campaign was carried out, which was also carried out in court. The Commissar embarrassingly failed and reinforced the impression of arbitrary and ideologically motivated persecution. Not only the vocations collapsed, even the friars themselves were urged to leave the Order because the original religious charisma was eliminated. At this point all the harshness became apparent, some even reveal the persecutor’s ugliness. The friars, who reconstituted the Order as an Old Rite order and thereby wanted to submit to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (now a division of the Congregation of the Faith), this was denied. The friars, who wanted to leave the Order and ask for release from their vows to found a new order, were forbidden to do so. The then Commissar even threatened Italian bishops who would allow Franciscans of Immaculata in their dioceses admission. The bishop of Albenga-Imperia, who had promoted the Order particularly, gave him three settlements there,
entrusted pilgrimage churches and dared to defend the Order against unjustified persecution, was made emeritus by Pope Francis.
The same happened to a Filipino bishop, who received the former Franciscan Immaculata in his diocese and helped to found a new order there.
Others found refuge in England, which was previously tolerated by Rome, because they live their charism without a stir. Bishop Egan granted a new home to one of the Order's brilliant heads, Father Serafino M. Lanzetta. In 2015, he entrusted him with the parish of St. Mary in Gosport and appointed him pastor. P. Lanzetta made the New-Parish a bi-ritual one. The change that became possible coincided with the death of the first Roman Commissar, Capuchin Fidenzio Volpi.
Fr. Lanzetta enabled the other brothers of his order to settle in Gosport. Thus the exile of the
seminarians, who were in the middle of their studies, came to an end when the storm broke over the Order. A few days ago they were consecrated by Bishop Egan, according to their sensitivity, in the traditional form of the Roman Rite.
In the diocese of Portsmouth the former Franciscans of Immaculata can live. Their community is called the Family of the Immaculate Virgin and Saint Francis. It already has nine priests, brothers and seminarians. So far, two other priests have worked together with Fr. Lanzetta in Gosport, who are now strengthened by the four new priests Fra Philemon, Fra Rosario, Fra Faustinus and Fra Michael. Thus, the number of Mass sites reached can be expanded. Wherever the priests of the new community come, they also bring the traditional Rite and tradition.
In recent years Bishop Egan has been particularly sensitive to the priests and the faithful who are associated with the traditional Rite. In September 2018, he established a personal parish of the traditional Rite in Reading, which he entrusted to the FSPC. In March 2019, he paid a visit to St. Michael's School in Burghclere, which is located in his diocese and run by the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX).
In Gosport, a seed has become a small plant.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: MiL / MyAlbum / Saint Marys
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