MANCHESTER, England — An English cardinal said he has thanked God for “the wonders of the internet” after two episcopal installations were able to be livestreamed from cathedrals shut to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the internet meant that the two ceremonies were watched by tens of thousands, even though there were no congregations present.
The cardinal presided over the March 21 enthronement of Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family, London.
Two days earlier, Bishop David Oakley of Northampton, England, was consecrated at a ceremony held in private because of restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly, which have meant the suspension of public liturgies throughout Britain. Since March 23, all U.K. churches have been closed, even to private prayer, as the country tries to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“Both ceremonies took place in order that those newly appointed could take up their new mission and so that their people would not be deprived of a pastor,” Cardinal Nichols told Catholic News Service in an email.
“Both ceremonies were deeply prayerful and (participants were) keenly aware of the wider, and large, congregation that was taking part over the internet,” he said. “The beginnings of these two ministries will be celebrated more fully when circumstances permit.”
“The bonds of the Holy Spirit run deep. The angels and saints are present at every celebration of Mass in an invisible yet powerful way,” he said.
Bishop Nowakowski, who was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, announced in a March 19 letter to Ukrainian Catholics that he would be consecrated privately because of the pandemic.
Originally, Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych was scheduled to preside over the enthronement April 7, but the date was changed when it became clear that, because of the pandemic, the major archbishop would be unable to attend.
Instead, Cardinal Nichols presided. About 10 people attended, including two female parishioners who livestreamed the event via hand-held devices to an estimated 37,000 people.
Bishop Nowakowski, 61, later told CNS, “It was certainly a very different experience for me.”
His enthronement, he said, reminded him of when he was in the seminary in Rome in the 1980s and would sing responses during liturgies; these were recorded and broadcast into the Soviet Union.
“You were celebrating in a lovely little chapel which was a studio of Vatican Radio and, I have to say, it felt just the same way,” he said.
“I understood that it was being broadcast around the world, and that was the same feeling that I very much had at the very beginning of the celebration, when we were walking into the church with the cardinal and the other priests. I knew that it was being watched by many people around the world.”
Bishop Nowakowski said he had been planning to visit the churches and mission centers of the 18,000-strong Ukrainian Catholic Church in Britain but would now have to adjust to a “new pastoral reality” in which the livestreaming of liturgies would play a central part until the pandemic was over.
Cardinal Nichols said the consecration of Bishop Oakley, 69, was attended by just two bishops, several family members and others assisting in the ceremony, but it was livestreamed “across the diocese and more widely.”