05 October 2018
The Church in England and Wales: A Creative Minority
The reality of the local Church presented by the Bishops of England and Wales on the occasion of their visit to our Dicastery, on September 24th, is that of a community facing the challenges of secularization, relativism, materialism, atheism, and indifference with regard to religion, with the consequence of progressive erosion of traditional values. In addition to these problems, in the phase of uncertainty with regard to the “post-Brexit,” there is the fact of being a minority. The Catholic Church in England and Wales represents only 8.7% of the total population, a percentage due, among other things, to the presence of immigrants (from Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, and the Philippines). However, the Catholic Church is respected in the public arena, above all because of Her engagement in the fields of education and assistance to the neediest.
The lay faithful, too, are affected by the culture that has “put God on the bench;” in many of them, the split between the professed faith and the choices of everyday life is perceptible. On the positive side, there is a growing demand for formation, above all spiritual, which will certainly help them to take root in Christ. Faced with this question, the British Church is not unprepared, having long ago developed a rich offer of pastoral initiatives and proposals.
Speaking about youth ministry, the Bishops expressed their joy over the precious contribution of associations such as “Youth 2000” in the animation of their peers, thus confirming that the World Youth Day is a good opportunity that the youth ministry of England seizes on every occasion, encouraging the young to take part in the event and preparing them for it. The fruits are found in the successive commitment of the young people in their parish and associative communities. Among the various initiatives of youth ministry, the Bishops focused on “Flame,” a biennial event that brings together over 10,000 young people in Wembley Stadium, where they listen to meditations, catechesis, and the testimonies of prominent people, all accompanied by good music. The dioceses also cultivate the deep-rooted tradition of pilgrimages as an instrument for catechizing the young. Every year, nearly 300 young people go on the pilgrimage to Lourdes and, so, have the opportunity to live the strong experience of serving the sick. Finally, the Bishops mentioned the “Parliamentary Internship Program,” an initiative, begun 15 years ago, that encourages especially young university students to prepare themselves to assume their social and political role.
Describing the health state of the family in Britain, the Bishops manifested their concern. In many cases, rising unemployment, housing difficulties and the high cost of living force spouses to work outside the home and, hence, leave their children to themselves. The culture of pre-marital cohabitation is so strongly established that over 80% of those who get married in the Church have previous experience of living together. Finally, the number of marriages celebrated in the Church decreases every year. For these reasons, the British Church has, with great enthusiasm, adopted Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia to guide and inspire Her pastoral care of the family. The Bishops also expressed great satisfaction with regard to the World Meeting of Families that was recently held in Dublin, appreciating both the catecheses and realistic expression of the different aspects of today's family.
On the subject of life, the Bishops focused on the United Kingdom’s great debate on the issue of the end of life, a question that has emerged with particular force because of the progressive aging of the population; it is increasingly difficult to take care of the elderly and their families, and to make it possible for them to live the final part of their existence with dignity. In reaction to the repeated and (until now) failed attempts of the government to introduce euthanasia and assisted suicide into the British legislation, Catholic circles are very actively engaged in the promotion of palliative care and the accompaniment of the dying. Pro-life associations such as “Living and Dying well” are working to spread the culture of life in the country. In the same vein, the Church of England and Wales has launched a webpage (The Art of Dying Well), with a wealth of contents on the meaning of Christian death and about how to face this fateful moment. Among other initiatives to protect life, the Bishops focused on the “Day for Life,” a day for prayer and raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life in every phase, celebrated every year on a national scale.