The diocese of Southwark will be getting a new Archbishop shortly. It is one of two London dioceses – the other being Westminster. Southwark, as its name implies, covers the area south of the river (Thames).
Whoever is appointed will find that this is a diocese which has some strengths. The seminary – St John’s, at Wonersh near Guildford in Surrey – has a good number of young men studying for the priesthood. There are some fine priests in the diocese, including several associated with the FAITH Movement, which has been responsible for nurturing many vocations over recent years. Another movement, Youth 2000 is also based in the diocese, at Balham in South London.
It happens that a number of major Catholic organisations have their headquarters in Southwark, chiefly, of course, because its territory includes much of Greater London. Thus, the Catholic Truth Society, which for over 100 years has been producing books and pamphlets on Catholic teaching – and now also has DVDs, power-point presentations, a range of children’s materials, and more – is based near the Thames at Vauxhall. And further out in the suburbs, at Sutton in Surrey, is the British section of the international charity “Aid to the Church in Need,” which raises funds to help Catholics in parts of the world where they are persecuted, including India, China, and Sudan.
These are tough days for Catholics in many ways, and things are likely to get tougher. Britain has abortion on demand, funded by taxes and structured into the National Health Service. Recent high-profile legal cases have focussed attention on attempts to promote the acceptability of assisted suicide. Current Government policy seeks to impose sex education as a compulsory subject in schools for children as young as seven. Same-sex “civil unions” are celebrated in town halls up and down the country and politicians regard support for “gay rights” as absolutely normal.
We need Bishops who will cherish and lead their people with courage and a sense of zest for the truth. As Rome looks at lists of names for Southwark – and for the other dioceses where there will be new appointments in due course – prayers are going up from faithful souls. We need bishops who are centred on Jesus Christ, men who will stand firm for the Catholic Faith, who will speak up in defence of Catholic moral teaching, encourage lay initiatives in public and community life, evangelise, and lead with a sense of mission.
We need men of prayer who will be prepared to defend the Faith as a great Bishop did long ago – Bishop John Fisher, martyred along with Thomas More, at the Tower of London under Henry VIII. He was Bishop of Rochester in Kent – in today’s diocese of Southwark.