The Church in England Today: an Overview

Author: ZENIT


The Church in England Today: an Overview

Part 1Westminster Bishop Speaks On Marriage, Religious Vocation

By Ann Schneible

ROME, 16 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
Throughout England, work being done to encourage vocations and promote a fuller understanding of marriage and the priesthood is bearing fruit, says Bishop Arnold of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

Bishop John Arnold is auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Westminster, England, and titular bishop of Lindisfarne. Recently in Rome to preside over the diaconate ordinations for seminarians of the Venerable English College, the bishop sat down with ZENIT and spoke about the Catholic Church in England, and the pastoral concerns within the Archdiocese of Westminster.

ZENIT: At the moment, England is in the midst of a debate over marriage. Specifically, the British government is actively seeking to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, most recently through a government consultation. Could you speak about the role of the Church in this debate, and how is it being addressed pastorally within the diocese?

Bishop Arnold: The Catholic Church has a very important role in that we've held very firm to the teaching on the sacrament of marriage — marriage between one man and one woman — which has been the basis of society. What we must do, at the moment, is accept that we are a small minority in our nation, but we have something really to boast about in an understanding of marriage, and we've got to promote that. I don't think there's any point being aggressive about it because that simply causes arguments.

What we're looking for is a common understanding, a growth in understanding, and so what we must do is promote that sense of marriage, first of all within our own community, making sure that what as Catholics we understand by marriage and the theology of marriage, and that comes right down into the parishes enhancing marriage preparation, enhancing those celebrations of married couples, lives together, promoting life in whatever way. I think that's probably the most articulate way in which we can promote marriage.

It's unfortunate that our government has started a consultation about the best way of introducing same-sex "marriage" rather than whether we should or not introduce same-sex "marriage." There could be quite a long conversation to be had, but I would hope that the government wouldn't rush into anything, because I think there are unseen effects that people haven't fully considered.

There are many people who would understand the Catholic notion of marriage. There are many Catholics who have taken an awful lot for granted, and not reflected on it, and that's where we've got to do some work and make sure that they understand what their Church has taught for so long. Because it hasn't been questioned so directly before, I think many of us take what we believe about marriage for granted without much reflection within ourselves.

ZENIT: What is the state of religious vocations within England, and what initiatives are being undertaken to promote vocations, particularly within your diocese?

Bishop Arnold: In recent years we'd seen quite a downturn, but just recently, in the last five years or so, there's been a really quite discernible upturn in vocations: not huge numbers, but a steady growth. In my own diocese we've taken nine or 10 students each year into the seminary, which is a very good sign, and also, I think, these are students who are now coming after a better pre-seminary preparation. They're not just turning up as many of us did 30 years ago saying we wanted to be priests, and being accepted into the seminary without question. There's more discernment, more preparation, before we allow students into the seminary. I think things are looking better. Practically speaking, every diocese now has a priest who has a dedicated role in promoting vocations. I think that's very healthy, and this approach is bearing fruit.

We certainly have a great legacy from the papal visit, what some people call the "Benedict bounce," of people showing a new interest in vocations. This is wonderful to see. But we can't be complacent about it, and we're certainly not back at those sorts of numbers as we were in the 1960s, which were the largest ever. We've also got to be very sure, I think, about rediscovering, redefining, what priesthood is so that people know what they are being called to, and what they are being prepared for.

ZENIT: You mentioned a rise in the interest in vocations following the Holy Father's visit to England in 2010. What are some of the other fruits that you have been seeing in England from Pope Benedict's visit?

Bishop Arnold: Particularly from his address to the politicians and industrialists in Westminster Hall, he invited, very gently, a conversation in society where faiths would have a voice for finding the best way ahead of developing, because that's in all our interests. He was saying that the Catholic Church has something to contribute, and I think he said it in such a moderate and kindly way that many people who might have dismissed us as a voice thought, well yes, we're at least worth listening to. So I'm very optimistic that his visit has a very lasting effect in our society.
__________________________________________________________________________Part 2Westminster Bishop on Olympics and Evangelization

By Ann Schneible

ROME, 17 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
With the Olympic games on the horizon in England, followed closely by the commencement of the Year of Faith, the nation's faithful have a unique opportunity to spread the Gospel, says Bishop Arnold of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

Bishop John Arnold is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Westminster, England, and titular bishop of Lindisfarne. Recently in Rome to preside over the diaconate ordinations for seminarians of the Venerable English College, the bishop sat down with ZENIT and spoke about the Catholic Church in England, and the pastoral concerns within his archdiocese.

Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.

ZENIT: We're coming up to the Year of Faith. What sort of initiatives are being undertaken within England?

Bishop Arnold: I think we're taking the Holy Father's invitation very seriously — certainly at the level of the episcopal conference: a lot of initiatives that the individual bishops are adopting.
In my own diocese we've taken the year and split it into four seasons. The first is to discover what faith is: what are we inviting people to when we invite them to faith? Then we are going to be looking at a second season on the sacraments: how we celebrate our faith. The third season will be: how we live our faith, which is social action, and how we make an impact on the society in which we live because of the faith we have. Then the fourth season will be dedicated to the personal spirituality of growth, understanding, and prayer.

Different dioceses have taken different approaches, but everybody is really encouraging people to take this opportunity to investigate their faith, to deepen it, in whatever way. What we have to be careful about is simply loading more tasks on people who are already very busy. We must invite them to do what they can within the scope of their own lives.

ZENIT: England is preparing for the Olympic games. Obviously this is a largely secular event. How can these games be utilized as a tool for spreading the faith?

Bishop Arnold: First of all, the Church has taken very seriously the provision of chaplains around the Olympic villages, and hopefully their presence will be helpful to the athletes. What we have done, also, is promote those Christian athletes to speak about how faith impacts them as they strive for excellence in their own sports. Many of them have been very generous in speaking particularly to young people about what determination and dedication can mean, particularly in the light of faith. Because we're hosting so much within my own diocese, it's an opportunity for our local parishes to welcome the millions of visitors who will be coming to London, casual visitors or Catholics who are looking to celebrate the sacraments whilst they're here. It's a very good opportunity. Yes, it is a secular moment, but we've also taken very seriously the 50 days before the games of a period of peace, and that will also be the 50 days after the games, per the ancient tradition. That peace is not simply closing down of activities but trying to engage in dialogue and discussion with different groups who are pursuing many of the same things, but in different ways.
I think the Olympics will have a good effect. They are certainly bringing an awful lot of hard work, but I think it's looking very promising.

ZENIT: What are some of the initiatives that your diocese is sponsoring in preparation for the games?

Bishop Arnold: Particularly the parishes close to the games have devised different things, such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with explanation for visitors about what that means, what that does. The local parishes also have additional lay chaplains to welcome people when they come. It's very difficult to know who will be there, and what their needs will be. I think the general openness to the possibility that here's someone who may be coming to the games and there's an opportunity to speak to them, in some way, about the faith that we have.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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