The new Archbishop of Westminster, the most visible Catholic prelate in Britain, urged Catholics during his inaugural homily to express their beliefs with confidence. “Faith is never a solitary activity, nor can it be simply private,” said Archbishop Vincent Nichols on May 21 during his installation Mass at Westminster Cathedral. “Faith in Christ always draws us into a community and has a public dimension.”
Addressing a congregation of more than 2,000, Archbishop Nichols said the Christian community “reaches beyond ethnicity, cultural differences and social division, opening for us a vision of ourselves and of our society, as having a single source and a single fulfillment.”
“Faith builds itself in community and it expresses itself in action,” he added. “As a society, if we are to build on this gift of faith, we must respect its outward expression not only in honoring individual consciences but also in respecting the institutional integrity of the communities of faith in what they bring to public service and to the common good.”
The archbishop, who in recent years has been at the center of high-profile campaigns in defense of publicly funded Catholic schools and adoption agencies in Britain, challenged people to work together even in areas where they do not agree. “Let us be a society in which we genuinely listen to each other, in which sincere disagreement is not made out to be insult or harassment, in which reasoned principles are not construed as prejudice and in which we are prepared to attribute to each other the best and not the worst of motives,” he said.
Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury addressed Archbishop Nichols on behalf of the Church of England, saying that closer relations were “a sign that we all recognize common challenges and a need to pray and act together.” “The Roman Catholic and Anglican communities in England and Wales have the God-given task, along with all our other brothers and sisters in the faith, of making the good news of Jesus compelling and attractive to a generation deeply in need of hope and meaning, in need of something they can trust with all their hearts,” Archbishop Williams said.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, a Catholic member of the House of Lords, said “Vincent Nichols is an archbishop for our times… his gift of speaking to people directly and humanely, and his appreciation of the stress and pressures of modern life, will enable him to speak with clarity and compassion.” Lord Alton also noted that the new archbishop will face his share of opposition “as the public face of Catholicism in England” and added that he “deserves our unfailing practical support and prayers.”
Archbishop Nichols, 63, succeeded Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 76. In his remarks at the end of the Mass, Cardinal Murphy O’Connor said he expected his successor to face many battles to “sustain our Christian community in our secular society.”