Χριστος ανεστη – Christ is risen! Happy Easter to all our readers

All the Brethren in Chelmsford wish our readers a very happy Easter. 

Today we would like to offer you some pictures of the Paschal Candle that will be burnt in our chapel during Easter. It was blessed last night during the Sacred Paschal Vigil, which is the supreme and most solemn of Holy Mother Church’s sacred liturgies. In this annual Mass, the Faithful are gathered together in complete darkness, still in mourning for our Blessed Lord, lying dead in the sepulchre – or so we think. The priest, the alter Christus, assisted by the sacred ministers processes to the head of the assembly and there lights a fire, and blesses it, and from this paschal fire, the candle is blessed and lit, the sign of our Risen Lord in the midst of His children, like, as it were, the pillar of fire in the midst of the Hebrews in the wilderness, and the lamp-stand that cannot be hidden. During the blessing, the priest writes on the candle itself, using a stylus: he inscribes the Cross, the wood of which the Faithful venerated only the day before as Christ the Lord lay dying upon it for our salvation. He then writes the letters α – alpha – and ω – omega – for Christ, the Son of God, is both the beginning and the end. Finally, he inscribes the number of solar years since the Incarnation. After this, he inserts five grains of incense into Cross on the candle, recalling Christ’s five sacred wounds. The deacon then holds aloft the candle and sings: “Lumen Christi!” – the Light of Christ! – and processes into the dark church, and again sings on a higher note, “Lumen Christi!”. He moves from the narthex to the sanctuary, and sings the final time on a higher note yet still, “Lumen Christi!” “Deo gratias!” Thanks be to God! The deacon then incenses the candle and by its light, he sings the Easter Proclamation, or Exultet, an ancient poem which tells the story of this blessed night, from the Fall of Man to our Redemption by the God-Man. This year, Br Stephen, who was ordained to the levitical order by the Bishop of East Anglia in January, was able for the first time to perform this, the diaconal blessing par excellence, and sing the Exultet to the Norbertine tone. This was the first time that the Norbertine Exultet (which includes intercessions for the Pope and Bishop) had been heard in this county for nearly half-a-millennium since our Order was banished from the kingdom by the tyrant Henry VIII. We are very fortunate that we are now able to restore this ancient practice, which once was regularly heard in Essex and throughout England, and it a humbling privilege to be able to unite ourselves in this way ever more closely to our long deceased confères. By the light of the Paschal Candle, the story of our salvation is told by the reading of sections of the Old Testament – for the Old Testament can only be explained in the light of Christ, as He Himself taught the disciples on the road to Emmaus – after which, as the Old Testament is concluded, the church explodes into light and music, as the priest intones the Gloria in excelsis Deo: Glory to God in the highest. The organ is played, all the bells in the church are rung, the veils torn down a the candles are lit. The desolation of Calvary has now been completed, and the Tomb is empty. Alleluia!


At the base of the candle is a little superfluous decoration, but also the author’s favorite element. It shows a beehive and several worker bees, which are mentioned in the Easter Proclamation, or Exultet, since the candle is made with beeswax. Traditionally, the beehive is a symbol of the Mystical Body of Christ; each bee has his or her own assigned task, a vocation, as it were, which builds up the hive. Each Christian person has a different function, a different offering to make, each of which is of immeasurable value to our Lord when such offerings are made in union with His Sacrifice. Similarly, the beeswax candle is a symbol of His Sacrifice: the candle is consumed by the flame which enlightens our darkness. Co-incidentally, the beehive was a favourite symbol of St Bernard, who was a contemporary and friend of OHF Norbert.


The main decorative element on the candle is the cross, the alpha and omega (which here is in the lower case). The cross itself is green, as if it were a living tree, rooted in the omega, and coming to fruition in the alpha; the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The cross itself is studded with incense grains, which are encased within large brass pins. The date is written around the cross in Arabic numerals, though the artist preferred to use the earliest style of such numerals, as would have been familiar to OHF Norbert (which is why the number 4 looks like an ‘h’!). The characters are written in red to symbolise the Precious Blood.


At the top of the candle is the arms of the Order of Prémontré, two crossed-crosiers on a field of fleur-de-lis. The author will hazard a blazon of: Azure semé-de-lys Or two crosiers in saltire Or (Answers on a post-card please!). The crest is a decorated cloth-of-gold mitre.


The Paschal Candle in situ in the chapel. It was decorated by one of the confrères.

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Another visit to Leiston Abbey

A modest outing was made today by several of the confrères to the Premonstratensian Abbey of Leiston in the neighbouring county of Suffolk. They Abbey was founded in the 12th century, and moved to its present location two centuries later, when the ruins of this perpendicular structure were built. In fact, it was still being added to even on the eve of the reformation which closed the Abbey. A visit was also made to Leiston this time last year, an account of which may be read here.

It was, in fact, the author’s second visit to Leiston, the first being made several years ago when he was still an history undergraduate, and east Suffolk perpendicular churches were a particularly fashionable subject in his faculty at the time for some reason. It was a great joy, however, to return to the abbey now that he is a Premonstratensian himself.

Leiston was a small Abbey; the number of confrères hovered around the teens, so not much larger than our Priory of Chelmsford. With ruins, one can often be deceived as to the proportions of the building as it would have been. It was quite clear that the largest parts of the abbey, the church and the refectory, were rather modest in size, and it is very easy to imagine that it had a somewhat homely feel to it, nestled in the Suffolk countryside, only a few hours’ walk from the sea. The church itself was no larger than many of the other local parish churches in large towns (East Anglian churches tend to be rather large, since it was the most densely populated part of the country until the turn of the seventeenth-century). 

Though Leiston is clearly not our nearest pre-reformation foundation – that being Beeleigh Abbey – it is always good for us to maintain our links with our deceased Presmonstratensian confrères, since, surely, they are keeping an eye on us and supporting us with their prayers. One hopes that our modest little foundation will be a source of some joy for those of them in heaven. Prayers were said at the remains of the high altar for our confrères who are still waiting to get there. 


The sacristy



The sacristy, on the right, was next to the chapter room, centre, over the short wall in the foreground. The tallest structure visible is the remains of the chimney in between the califactory (left) and the refectory.


Barely anything remains on the inside of the church proper except the south side and the transepts, and the lower walls of the sanctuary (shown), where a new pseudo-altar has been placed in the position of the high altar, in front of a magnificent east window. Building work to an adjacent modern structure prevented more detailed photography here.


The refectory, seen from above the califactory. On the right is the cloister; in the centre of the photograph, the viewer can see the remains of a red-brick gatehouse added just before the dissolution.


The sanctuary in the chapel of St Michael in the south aisle. Brother Cantor kindly evacuated the piscina of rubble so that it may again be used.


The exterior of the east window; one can notice some of the original flint flushwork detail on the exterior walls which very popular in East Anglian perpendicular architecture, both ecclesiastical and civic, and which is still very common in the region, not excluding one of the parish churches run by the Order in the England today.


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The 1536 Lincolnshire and Yorkshire Risings and the Norbertines

Yorkshire Catholics, amongst whom the present novice and author likes to number himself, are rightly proud that the infamous rebellion against the despotic royal authority wielded by the Henrican government in the 1530s against the Catholic Religion, commonly called the Pilgrimage of Grace for the Commonwealth, arose in God’s own county, and that her fertile and verdant pastures were consequently watered with the blood of many holy martyrs. Indeed, visitors to York herself today will do well to remember, when one is searching for a parking space in Castlegate car park, to spare a thought for the undoubtedly saintly [in the author’s opinion] Robert Aske, who was exposed in heavy chains from the walls of the Keep that is today called Clifford’s Tower: a most gruesome demise for the humble Yorkshire barrister that became the figurehead of that most godly of risings of the winter of 1536.

Yet the historian must remember, of course, that this Pilgrimage of Grace was, in fact, the culmination of a wider series of rebellions, and must not be confused with the principal subject of our discussion, which is the earlier Lincolnshire Rising of October 1536, for here we find a reasonable degree of Premonstratensian involvement.

Our Order’s first foundation in England, Newhouse (1143, from Licques in the County of Flanders), was to be found in the North Riding of Lindsey, in Lincolnshire. There was a great concentration of Premonstratensian houses in that county until the Reformation. Newhouse also founded our own local Abbey of Beeleigh in 1180, as well as Barlings Abbey in Lincolnshire, which will appear again shortly. There were 34 Norbertine houses in England on the eve of the Reformation.

Recent historiography has suggested that many common people were dissatisfied with the religious changes that were taking place in the wake of King Henry’s separation from the Holy See. Though some have suggested that the king himself had no particular interest in ridding the English Church of its Latin language, ceremonial, ritual and religious orders, his many of his state counsellors certainly were, and so they pressed on with the wholesale rejection of all that is good and true that comes with apostasy. So the nobles and the commons of Lincolnshire, roused to such activity by the Vicar of Louth, took arms and marched on Lincoln; they were 20,000 men in number. The king, aware that he could not use the local lords to quash the rebellion, for they sympathised with the cause, dispatched the Duke of Suffolk with an army of 8,000 to march upon Lincoln. At the news of this, many of the noble rebels fled, and the commons remained, and, when the Duke arrived, he offered them an amnesty if they left quietly, some of whom did, though many stayed. The siege, however, was quickly ended when news was received by the Duke that a larger rebellion had arisen in Yorkshire, and so marched north.


The inauguration of the Pilgrimage of Grace for the Commonwealth, 1536, featuring various religious, and common persons. Note the infamous banner depicting the Five Precious Wounds of Our Lord. An unknown Norbertine is depicted in a biretta and almutium.

One might rightly ask why the Lincolnshire Rising is connected with our Order, and so now we come to the person of Matthew Mackarel o.praem., the Abbot of Barlings and Titular Bishop of Chalcedon (being an auxiliary of the diocese). Barlings was a sizeable abbey just to the east of Lincoln on the Wragby Road, and possessed three parishes in the county, and two more parishes in Norfolk (one of which, Bungay, is now administered by the Benedictine Abbey of Downside, though all traces of its Norbertine past are now thoroughly expunged).

The rebels sought the support of the clergy. At this time, as well as the forced closure of smaller monastic houses, even secular clergy were being investigated by the royal commissioners, purportedly to assess their intellectual capability, but, in reality, to weed out secretly “Popish” clergy. There was a tremendous increase in homeless and destitution, as priests, religious and secular, and monks and nuns were thrown out onto the street. Valuable parochial property (mainly vestments and plate) were seized by the state, and replaced with cheaper items, and parishes were merged. This, even then being the last straw, the rebels put pressure on the clergy to lend their support to the rising, since, “by the suppression of so many religious houses whereby the service of God is not well performed but also the poverty of your [majesty’s] realm be unrelieved [is done] a great hurt to the commonwealth.” [Declaration of the Lincolnshire Commons, 8 October 1536] So integrated were ecclesiastical institutions into the everyday life of normal people, when one half of this symbiotic relationship was damaged, so was the other. The Church, not the State, after all, was the authority that provided education, healthcare and welfare.

The most notable cleric in the area was the auxiliary bishop of the vast diocese of Lincoln, Holy Doctor Mackarel, as he was called, the Abbot of Barlings. A Lancashire man originally (he was professed in Cockersands), he had been the only Englishman (according to record) who had studied abroad (Freiburg), and was created a doctor of divinity by Cambridge University.


A Premonstratensian Canon of the Early Modern oepoch

The Abbot was clearly against the royal settlement, but, as with most of the clergy in England, he tolerated it, in the hope, perhaps, that things will all get sorted out eventually. After all, Henry VIII was not the first English king to attempt to split from Rome. We cannot judge the personalities at the Reformation in England with the benefit of hindsight: most people would rather live their lives and say their prayers, and were not involved in high politics. But the Abbot was also sensible, and saw the way the wind was blowing. He sold many valuable items from the Abbey, and established a trust fund, to allow the brethren to have an income when their home would inevitably be shut down. Perhaps he was even aware of the rumour that the king intended to start closing larger monasteries, and that Barlings was at the top of the list. Clearly, he was supportive of the rebel’s ultimate cause, but he disagreed with their method, knowing that it would only serve to hasten the inevitable. “It was against the laws of God and man that any religious person should go to any battle and specially against their prince,” he said.

But the rebels, led by the Vicar of Louth (a secular priest) insisted on his involvement. So pressured was he by the rebels to join them, that he was deeply affected by profound melancholia, that he could not offer the Mass. Not only did the rebels want practical aid – they had requested of him, for example, that they could eat meat on Fridays – but they wanted the abbot and canons to actually join the rising, thereby giving their action legitimacy and authority. The insistence of the involvement of religious – already suppressed or no – suggests the importance of this cause of restoration of monastic life in England was the rebels – it was not simply a matter of where the next meal should come from, and who would provide us with material sustenance, thought surely that was a realistic consideration. Compared with the rebels themselves, the monasteries were seen as timid. Surely the rebels, in placing so much pressure – sometimes violently – on the religious, thought that they were acting in their interest; the abbeys simply could not see what was happening, and perhaps they buried their heads in the sand.

When the Abbot finally did relent, he wanted his involvement to be widely publicised, to ensure that assaults on his confreres would cease. He did not, as some dubious accounts have suggested, assumed the pseudonym, “Captain Cobbler”. He would not permit his fellow canons from participating in the rising, except six of the “tallest”, presumably, the younger and most able-bodied men. Those seven canons rode with the rebels to Lincoln in their full habits, bedecked in rochet and fur. Never should it be said that Norbertines do things by halves.

Not only was the holy Abbot responsible for his canons, he also had pastoral care of the people, as a bishop. If the flock of Christ the Good Shepherd were going to do something – even if he disagreed with the manner in which it took place – he had a responsibility to be with them as their pastor. And so too did Norbertine canonesses provide aid; the nearby Priory of Irford donated their horse to the rebels.

Though the Duke of Suffolk allowed most of the rebels to return home in peace, as he was taking leave of Lincoln, he ordered the arrest of the clergy who were present, including those seven Norbertines. It is known that four of them were summarily executed in Lincoln immediately. The Abbot, and another canon (the seventh presumably was allowed to return home), as well as the Vicar of Louth, were sent to London, and although the Abbot was hardly what we might call a ring-leader, he was seen as one of the “great doers of this matter”. His fate was uncertain after his arrest that October. In spite of being indicted for treason, the Earl of Shrewsbury succeeded in convincing the king to commute his sentence to imprisonment, which lasted for three months, until he was charged with “riotous assembly and of compassing and imagining the death of the king,” and executed alongside the Vicar of Louth at Tyburn on 29 March 1537.

Ironically, the involvement of seven men from the Abbey hastened its demise. The king invoked an Act of Attainder when the Abbot died, and requisitioned the Abbey and all its property; Barlings was most cruelly scourged by the royal commissioners. All that remains of the abbey today is a small section of nave wall. The ruined tower collapsed in 1757.

The picture shown at the beginning of this article is an imaginary scene of the start of the Pilgrimage of Grace (or the Yorkshire Rising), painted in 1913. It depicts a Norbertine, in his distinctive biretta and almuce, amongst the other religious, though it is not certain whether any Norbertines were involved directly in this later rising. As is well-known, the Yorkshire Rising was cruelly deceived by the King, who promised to heed their demands, and, given their godly constitution, they agreed to lay down their arms and obey the king, now that he had apparently agreed to undo his mistakes. But, instead, the king had the rebel leaders in Yorkshire (Aske amongst them) seized and charged with treason, and so their blood was spilled for Christ and His Holy Church.

A more detailed description of the Abbot’s involvement can be read at this earlier post on our website: http://norbertinevocations.wordpress.com/2008/03/12/matthew-mackerell/

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Diaconal Ordination of Brother Stephen


Happy New Year to all our readers! May our Holy Fathers Augustine and Norbert pray for you, that 2014 may be a year of many graces and blessings.

On Sunday 5th January 2014 at our parish church of Our Lady Immaculate, Chelmsford, Br Stephen Morrison O.Praem. was ordained a deacon by the Rt Rev Alan Hopes, Bishop of East Anglia. It was a great honour to receive Bishop Hopes, who knew Br Stephen from his time as Auxiliary Bishop in Westminster, where Br Stephen often met with him during seminary studies at Allen Hall.

Br Stephen will serve as a deacon in our two parishes, as well as at conventual liturgy in the Priory Chapel. The Deacon’s role is one of service and ministry at the Altar, as well as preaching, baptising, and engaging in pastoral work. Please pray for Br Stephen as he begins this important role in preparation for priestly ordination in about a year’s time.

We offer below some photographs of the Mass of Ordination, with many thanks to Mr Joseph Kelly who kindly took them. They can also be found on our facebook page.

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Posted in Chelmsford, Community Events, Parish/Apostolate, Vocation

Merry Christmas!

Our Holy Father Norbert and the early saints of the Order adore the Christ Child (from a painting in the chapter house of the abbey of Averbode)

Our Holy Father Norbert and the early saints of the Order adore the Christ Child (from a painting in the chapter house of the abbey of Averbode)

The Prior and community of St Philip’s Priory wish all our benefactors, relatives and friends a happy and holy Christmastide.

Indeed many religious men, both bishops and abbots, had advised him in various ways, one suggesting the eremitic life, another that of an anchorite, still another to take up the lifestyle of the Cistercians. But Norbert, whose work and plans depended on heaven, entrusted his foundation neither to himself nor to others but rather to Him who is the beginning of all things. He pondered these many things in his heart but he and those who wished to live with him had been dedicated since their youth, Norbert ordered that the rule be accepted which the Blessed Augustine had established for his followers. The apostolic life which he had undertaken by his preaching he now hoped to live. He had heard that this way of life was ordained and renewed by this same blessed man after the apostles. By the profession of this rule then, on Christmas Day at Prémontré, one by one they voluntarily enrolled themselves into that city of blessed eternity. –  Vita A, Life of St Norbert

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Recent Events November-December 2013


“Lift high the Blessed Sacrament above all the errors and miseries of the world”

We were blessed to have the Forty Hours’ Devotion in our house chapel from 14th to 16th November, this great period of solemn exposition is a wonderful opportunity for the canonry and our parishes to increase devotion to our Eucharistic Lord. This great tradition began in Milan in the year 1537, but very quickly spread to Rome promoted by St Philip Neri , St Ignatius of Loyola and was supported by the Holy Father. Initially, the intention may have been to avoid physical and moral calamities, but it took hold of the imagination of the people of Rome and spread from there far and wide. The rubrics for the Roman customs attached to the Forty Hours’ Devotion were issued by Pope Clement VIII in 1592 in the document that has come to be known as the Clementine Instruction, the rubrics for the devotion are intended to create an atmosphere of peace and recollection, it was this that was most remarked upon by the faithful who attended.


Our house chapel full to bursting!

The solemn Mass of Exposition to open the Forty Hours was well attended by the faithful, and accompanied by Norbertine chant sung by the canons. Rt Rev Hugh Allan o.praem., our prior, preached on the importance of the Blessed Sacrament in the lives of all the faithful and the saints, reminded us that this great gift makes God sacramentally present to us, veiled before our very eyes. More photos can be found here.

As Advent approached we have also been greatly blessed to hear a series of talks by Br Stephen Morrison o.praem. on the theme of ‘Advent and the Liturgy’. Br Stephen gave three talks in our parish of Our Lady Immaculate using the texts of the sacred liturgy to enrich our prayer during this season. It was particularly apposite to emphasise that our Lord who was born as a baby in a stable in Jerusalem, comes to us every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. We hope to share the content of Br Stephens talks very soon.


Diaconal Ordination of Rev Br Paul Vianney Harris SDS. © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

On December 7th Br Stephen and myself were delighted to be invited to attend the diaconal ordination of our friend Br Paul Vianney Harris SDS, in the Salvatorian parish of St Joseph’s in London. Br Paul was ordained by His Grace Archbishop Vincent Nichols who preached on the spiritual and liturgical importance of the homily, taking inspiration for our Holy Father Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. We were also delighted to sing the litany at this ordination, as we had at his Solemn Profession.

For the feast of St Lucy today, the great virgin martyr of the fourth century mentioned in the Roman canon, we followed the traditional practice of having our conventual Mass lit by candlelight only. St Lucy, whose name means ‘Light’, has many traditions surrounding the celebration of her feast, one of these is that in the darkness of winter we use her feast to remind us of the light who is soon to enter the world.


Light from light…




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Vigil for Peace – Saturday 7th Sept 2013

His Holiness Pope Francis

His Holiness Pope Francis

In the angelus address of Sunday 1st September Pope Francis asked all Catholics to participate in a vigil of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East on Saturday 7th September.

To this end, in union with the Holy Father and Catholics everywhere, we will be celebrating a Mass for Peace in Our Lady Immaculate Church (Chelmsford) at 6 p.m. followed by adoration until 10:45 at which point there will be Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The full timetable can be found here: Vigil for Peace Timetable.

We invite all our parishioners to join us in following the Holy Father’s initiative, and all our readers to do what they can:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Hello!

Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love (cf. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, [11 April 1963]: AAS 55, [1963], 301-302).

All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

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