Essex

Titanic priest Father Thomas Byles 'should be sainted'

Father Thomas Byles Image copyright Other
Image caption Father Thomas Byles, of St Helen's Church in Chipping Ongar, was twice asked to board a lifeboat when the Titanic sank on 15 April, 1912.

A campaign is under way to have the Catholic priest who stayed on RMS Titanic instead of fleeing on a lifeboat made a saint.

Father Thomas Byles, of St Helen's Church, Chipping Ongar, Essex, boarded the ship at Southampton to attend his younger brother's wedding in New York.

But when it sank in 1912 he twice refused to join a lifeboat and instead remained with passengers to pray.

The current priest at St Helen's Church said Father Byles should be canonised.

Image copyright PA
Image caption 1,500 people perished aboard RMS Titanic after it hit an iceberg and sank in 1912

Father Byles, educated in Fleetwood, Lancashire and Oxford, had been rector at St Helen's for eight years when he died.

He had celebrated Mass for second and third class passengers on board the ship, most notably on the morning of the tragedy.

His sermon alluded to prayers and sacraments being spiritual lifeboats when in danger from the spiritual shipwreck of temptation.

His actions before perishing with 1,500 others aboard the Titanic were praised by Pope Pius X.

Father Graham Smith, current priest of St Helen's, said: "He's an extraordinary man who gave his life for others.

"We need, in very old parlance, to raise him to the altar which means that the Vatican will recognise him as a martyr of the church.

"We are hoping and praying that he will be recognised as one of the saints within our canon."

To be canonised - made a saint - at least two miracles must be attributed to the intercession of a candidate.

A phenomenon is accepted by the Holy See as a miracle once certified by doctors as having no medical explanation.

Father Smith said: "We hope people around the world will pray to him if they are in need and, if a miracle occurs, then beatification and then canonisation can go forward."

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