Stories of Success for the Church in England

Interview With Archbishop of Westminster

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ROME, JAN. 25, 2010 ( Statistics about the numbers and commitment level of Catholics in England have some pleasant surprises, according to the president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster affirmed this today in an interview with Vatican Radio on the occasion of the episcopal conference’s five-yearly visit.

The bishops of England and Wales today began their ad limina visit with the first group to meet with Benedict XVI.

And with a trip to Great Britain on the papal agenda for this year (in September), this ad-limina visit has special significance.

Archbishop Nichols led the group that met with the Holy Father. In this interview, the prelate takes a look at signs of hope and challenges for the Church in England.

Q: The local Church [in England] has five archdioceses and 17 dioceses. Catholics number just over 5 million, or 8.9% of the population. [Could you] reflect on the present challenges for the Catholic Church in England.
Archbishop Nichols: The research, which was carried out recently, reflects a more composite community and registers a numerical increase of which we weren’t fully aware.

Something else which catches the eye at this moment is that the life of faith is much more intense in the larger cities than in the rural areas of the country, where the numbers are falling and the priests are growing old and there are serious difficulties.

I also think that this research showed that in regard to the rest of the population, Catholics are much more committed to the cause of social justice. And this is encouraging for us, because it is a concrete expression of the social teaching of the Church and because is shows that beyond the noted difficulties we also have some stories of success to tell.
Q: The Church receives many immigrants, in particular from Poland and the Philippines. This multi-ethnic Church undoubtedly represents a challenge. How are you addressing it?
Archbishop Nichols: I must say that many of the communities that have come in fact bring new life and vigor to our English Catholicism. There are of course difficulties with those national groups that — understandably — want to preserve their identity and their liturgical rites. However, in the majority of cases the situation is managed quite well and we are finding a balance between integration in a single liturgical community and recognition of the profound spiritual need of the faithful to express the faith in their mother tongue.
Q: Great Britain is perhaps today one of the most secularized societies in Europe. You said recently that it «has sold her soul to scientific learning and to materialism heedless of religion.» And yet, there is also an intense thirst for spirituality.
Archbishop Nichols: British society is quite complex and some key institutions — often the universities and at times the machinery of government in its legislative activity — concentrate almost exclusively on factual data and I don’t think that this reflects the common feeling. I think that in this country an uncertainty is emerging about the type of society we desire, about what are the true values to pursue and about what profound identity to construct and sustain. Religious faith helps us to live in this uncertainty, because it gives us an openness to the transcendent and to the full awareness that we do not know or control everything.
As Church we seek to participate fully in the public debate on these topics. This means that at times we must speak with the statistics in hand. Sometimes, instead, we must try to enter the debate with rational reasoning, rather than that of faith: This is the case of the present debate on assisted suicide. Other times we must again seek to show the role of religious faith in the public arena. Hence, we must operate at different levels.
Q: How are relations with the Anglican Communion after the recent approval of the apostolic constitution «Anglicanorum Coetibus»?
Archbishop Nichols: Now, the reaction to «Anglicanorum Coetibus» is, in a certain sense, measured. There was a strong reaction at the beginning, which the media, in part, inflated. Now we are in a phase of assessment and reflection in prayer. For a complete evaluation of the Pope’s initiative, we must consider the important announcement of the start of the third phase of talks of ARCIC, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission.

In my opinion, it is about two connected things. The Holy Father’s response has given a positive stimulus to ARCIC’s debates and the concomitance between the launching of ARCIC III and the apostolic constitution «Anglicanorum Coetibus» is not a coincidence. In fact, in our joint declaration, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury and I said that this step of the Holy See will bring, at the end of a period of uncertainty and restraint, a positive contribution to a more vast dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion on the whole, which will have reflections also in this country.

[Interview by Philippa Hitchen of Vatican Radio; translation by ZENIT]
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