BIRMINGHAM, UK – History was made in the Catholic Church in the UK when Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia and Mr William Ozanne were made Knights of the Pontifical Order of Pope St Gregory the Great on April 22.
The ceremony took place during a special Mass and Investiture at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham.
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham invested the internationally known and respected spiritual leader and chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, based in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, with one of the highest papal awards.
The Order of St Gregory is normally bestowed on Catholics but in rare cases it is also conferred on non-Catholics in recognition of meritorious service to the Catholic Church and the exceptional example they have set in their communities and country.
More than 120 Sikhs from Birmingham, London, Leeds, and some who had flown in from Kenya and India were present in St Chad’s Cathedral for the ground-breaking event in interfaith relations involving the Catholic Church and Sikhism.
Mr Bill Ozanne, who has worked in the area of interreligious dialogue locally, nationally and internationally for many years as a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ Committee for Other Faiths, has recently been appointed by Archbishop Longley as chairman of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.
Archbishop Longley invested each of the knights-elect in the name of the Holy Father with the insignia of a Knight of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great. The archbishop also presented Bhai Sahib-ji with the sword of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great.
In his homily Archbishop Longley said: “I believe that it is the first time that a papal honour has been bestowed in this way on a spiritual leader from within the Sikh community.
“It represents the Holy Father’s recognition of Bhai Sahib Bhai’s deeply held desire for fruitful and lasting relations between Sikhs and Catholics and opportunities to witness together.
“We recall Bhai Sahib Bhai’s presence in Assisi for the international meetings of faith leaders at the invitation of Blessed Pope John Paul II and of Pope Benedict,” said the archbishop, who noted that the Sikh also attended the funeral of Blessed John Paul II in April 2005.
The archbishop said it was “very fitting” that Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia and Mr Bill Ozanne weree receiving papal knighthoods from the pope on the same occasion and in the same ceremony.
“Over a friendship of many years they have discovered not only within each other, but also within the faith traditions that they represent, an openness to dialogue and a desire to deepen understanding and cooperation for the common good.”
– By Peter Jennings
Peter Jennings is a well known Catholic journalist, writer, broadcaster and PR consultant.
He is currently press secretary to Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and the Archdiocese of Birmingham.