Pictured above, from the left, are Fr James Mary, Paul Hewitt, Bishop Peter Collins, Zyg Rakowicz, Dcn Rick Jones and Fr Andrew Chamiec.
On Wednesday July 12, following the midday Mass, Bishop Peter Collins announced the new rector for the Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady:
“May I offer my own welcome to the Shrine today to all of you who are present and wherever you have come from. You have arrived here today on what is a most significant day for this, the Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.
“As you know, Bishop Philip Moger, who served as rector here before his appointment as Axillary Bishop in Southwark, departed the shrine earlier this year. As a result of his leaving, we were delighted to receive the ministrations as acting Rector, of Fr James Mary. And may I express to him my sincere thanks for his service, together with the college of clergy around him and all the officers of the Walsingham Trust, for ensuring the well-being of this sacred precinct.
“As Bishop of the Diocese of East Anglia, it has been my duty and privilege to seek a replacement for our previous rector. At noon today, as Mass commenced, on the website of the Bishops Conference, on the Diocesan website, and on the website of the Walsingham Trust, there was the announcement that a new rector has indeed been appointed. His name is Fr Robert Billing, a priest of the Diocese of Lancaster.
“No doubt after Mass, if you can get a signal – and that’s a miracle in itself here at Walsingham – you can go and check-up all his biographical details. I’ll say a little about him in a moment, but I won’t bore you with too much detail.
“I was charged, as I say, with searching for a man who could take up appointment as rector. In this task, I have been assisted by my predecessor in the diocese, Bishop Allan Hopes, who for these past months has continued in his role as chair of the Walsingham Trust. That role I will assume myself in September. With his help and with the help of others across the country, I constructed a list of 12 names. But it soon became apparent to me which name I truly was seeking.
“At the Bishops Conference plenary meeting after Easter, discussions took place and I’m immensely grateful to Cardinal Nichols as President of the Bishops Conference, to Archbishop McMahon as the Vice President, and to Canon Christopher Thomas as general secretary of the Bishops Conference, for their assistance in narrowing down to one name. As I said, the name is Fr Robert Billing.
“I then, of course, had to approach his Bishop, Bishop Paul Swarbrick. Who, naturally enough, first said no, because any other Bishop seeking to manoeuvre the exit of a priest, an excellent priest from any diocese, is going to receive the same response. If someone came to me picking one of my best men, I would say go fish elsewhere, thank you very much.
“But as Bishop Paul reflected, and indeed, as he has expressed in his own press statement: ‘I realized that I was being asked not just by a fellow Bishop or by the conference of bishops, but by Our Lady. Our Lady of Walsingham no less, to be generous,’ and as he says, ‘I didn’t want to pick a fight with her, for that would be a very unwise undertaking.’
“And so, he generously and willingly released Fr Robert for being approached, first of all, because he himself had to give his own personal approbation. And I’m glad to say that he did precisely that after a little hesitancy born of his own humility.
“We are indeed going to be very blessed through the ministry of Fr Robert. He has served 3 bishops of Lancaster as their personal secretary, and that bears testimony in its own right. He has also undertaken many other tasks within his diocese. Most recently, he was sent to undertake further study. He holds the licensure in sacred theology and holds a double doctorate in Canon law. So, you better look out folks, he’ll keep you on the straight and narrow now.
“His personal qualities, his spiritual, pastoral and administrative gifts require no promulgation by me. They will speak for themselves as you discover more about him. He will take up appointment at the beginning of September.
“I ask you then, today especially, but in the coming days, to keep Fr Robert in your prayers. To keep the work of the Shrine in your prayers. We can look forward to a fruitful ministry coming into our midst, and as guardian of the Shrine, I urge and direct you to be true co-workers with our new rector. And to play your part in supporting him in his great responsibilities.
“Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.”