Preston's new cathedral one of only three in the world
It is a church with a long and turbulent history, and the last few years alone have seen it closing down, reopening and witnessing angry protests outside.
But now Pope Francis has given Preston’s St Ignatius church a very special honour – making it one of only three cathedrals in the world for the Indian Catholic community.
The Vatican announced yesterday that Pope Francis has formally established a new eparchy – similar to a diocese – for Indian Catholics in the city, one of just three worldwide.
The new Eparchy will have St Ignatius as its Cathedral Church. Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster said: “I welcome this exciting news and in particular Bishop Srampickal as the first Bishop of the Eparchy of the Syro-Malabars in Great Britain. I look forward to working with him as a close colleague and friend while he has care of his brothers and sisters throughout the whole country.”
Bishop Campbell added that the establishment of the new Eparchy was “a clear indication of the care of the Holy See for the thousands of Syro-Malabar Catholics who have settled in Great Britain”.
“I am particularly pleased that the seat of the new Eparchy will be the wonderful St Ignatius Church.”
The Vatican said the Holy Father was happy to give the new diocese to Great Britain, after learning of the large number of Syro-Malabar faithful living in the UK.
It said it was “important for them to have the official support and structures of their Church”.
The other two dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church outside of India are in the United States (founded in 2011) and Australia (founded in 2014).
The city centre St Ignatius Church was closed in November 2014 after suffering a dwindling congregation.
Regular attendees of the 180-year-old Grade II listed church were furious, with one lady even chaining herself to the railings outside in protest.
The former congregation was merged with the congregation at English Martyrs Church on Garstang Road.
But after standing empty for some months, St Ignatius was reopened for the local Syro-Malabar community.
It is this community which will continue to use the church.
Pope Francis has also appointed a bishop for the new eparchy - Rev Fr Joseph Srampickal, from Poovarany in Kerala, India.
He was ordained a priest in 2000 and has worked in India and Rome.