Pope to Welcome Venerable English College Students, Staff in Audience

England's Oldest Foreign Institution Celebrates 650

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ROME, NOV. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On December 3rd, students and staff of Rome's Venerable English College will be received in a private audience by Pope Benedict XVI in honor of the 650th anniversary of its founding.

They will bring with them to the audience the relic of Saint Ralph Sherwin, the seminary's proto-martyr, for the Holy Father to venerate.

Created in 1362 as a hospice for welcoming English and Welsh pilgrims to Rome, the Venerable English College (VEC) is the oldest overseas English institution. It was converted into a seminary for training Catholic priests in 1579 during the Reformation, when training for the priesthood was cleared by Queen Elizabeth I to be illegal in England. In the hundred years following its establishment as a seminary, at least 44 of its students were martyred upon their return to England; among them, ten have been canonized as saints, while the majority of the rest have been beatified.

Each year on December 1, "Martyr's Day," the VEC remembers these martyrs, for it was on this day in 1581 that Saint Ralph Sherwin became the first of the seminary's students to lay down his life for the Catholic Faith.

Present at this year's "Martyr's Day" celebrations will be their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, who will represent Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. "The presence of Royal Visitors will serve as a poignant reminder," says the current Rector, Monsignor Nicholas Hudson, "of the significant contribution made by the Hospice to the British heritage over several centuries; and in particular of the royal patronage enjoyed by this house in Tudor times."

Archbishop Nichols of Westminster will be principal celebrant for the "Martyr's Day Mass. Presiding in choir will be his predecessor, the Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who served as rector of the VEC from 1971-77.

The English and Welsh bishops present will include Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham. Also expected are Bishop Campbell of Lancaster and Bishop Drainey of Middlesbrough. Recently appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, Emeritus Bishop of Leeds; Secretary of Ecclesia Dei, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, and President of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses, Archbishop Piero Marini, will also be present.