On the website of the Diocese of Portsmouth, there is a video of Bishop Philip Egan delivering his October 2016 pastoral letter on the future of the Catholic schools under his charge.
A casual visitor to the site could be forgiven for thinking that here was a bishop of England and Wales straight from central casting. The 61-year-old Egan is unassuming in manner and appearance: he has the white hair, ruddy face, soft northern vowels and Irish surname of countless pleasant-but-ineffective British Catholic prelates since time immemorial.
But within a couple of minutes it is clear that something is different. The bishop’s demeanor turns from affable to positively joyful as he announces a revolution in Catholic education in Portsmouth – one of our largest and most oddly shaped dioceses, stretching from the Channel Islands to Oxford.
In essence, education in the diocese is going to become much more Catholic. “Our schools are wonderful!”, the bishops begins – before making clear that, having visited all 73 of them, private as well as state-funded, he intends to make them vastly more wonderful in the near future.
Bishop Egan’s vision of Catholic education is one in which all teaching, “especially the sciences and humanities”, is Christ-centred. “I would like all children, from Year 5 upwards, to have regular periods of Eucharistic Adoration, contemplative prayer and lectio divina,” he says.
When Portsmouth’s cheerful shepherd says “I would like”, he means “I expect”. He is not one of those bishops who, on being appointed by the Holy Father, announce that their priority is to “listen” to their flock – and then spend the rest of their time in office echoing the slogans of diocesan activists.
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