The Most Rev Vincent Nichols celebrated his second anniversary as Archbishop of Westminster on 26 May 2011. In an exclusive interview with Jo Siedlecka for Westminster Record, he reflects on the past two years and speaks about current issues, including new advice by the Bishops of England and Wales to return to Friday fasting.
Westminster Record interview with Archbishop Vincent Nichols from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.
Archbishop Vincent started off by telling me that the past two years have flown by and have included some remarkable events, beginning with his Installation Mass which was an “unforgettable, beautiful occasion”.
Relics of St Therese
He also talked about the visit of the Relics of St Therese to the diocese and said: “Over a three-day period nearly two hundred thousand people came to Westminster Cathedral to venerate the Relics of St Therese. It was quite fantastic, to be in Westminster Cathedral very early in the morning, and to have a sense of how much a simple woman, close to the Lord, able to talk about the things of the heart, really attracted people.
“I remember vividly, there was a chap in the doorway welcoming people with a smile. I asked him ‘how long have you been here?’ and he said, ‘ since seven o’clock yesterday evening.’ I then asked ‘have you had much of a sit down?’ He said ‘no, not much because people have been coming all night.’ That’s the kind of spirit Therese helps us recover.”
“The highlight of the last two years was the formal state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom. I had a very privileged part in that. There was a lot to do in preparation, but it was wonderful being part of the papal entourage. I met the Pope at the foot of the steps of the aeroplane in Edinburgh and said good bye to him in Birmingham. When he was in London of course I had the great thrill of riding with him in the Popemobile.”
Archbishop Vincent said he had met the Pope a few times before, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and Prefect to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He said: “it was always very clear that he was the most courteous, the most respectful, really the most intelligent and best informed, of all the members of the Curia. The discussion we had with him, whatever they were about, were always uplifting.”
I asked Archbishop Nichols, what it is like leading such a big diocese with 214 parishes. He said “It’s exhilarating. It’s tiring. It’s reassuring. It’s a position of great privilege and the responsibility that goes with it. My overall impression is one of being hugely supported by the people who work closely with me, by the other Bishops and the Deans of the Diocese.”
“Wherever I go, I have one of two experiences; either seeing the diocese at it’s best - that’s what happens when I go to parishes. People are there, they are enthusiastic, they’re glad to see their archbishop and they show faith at its best. Or on other occasions, it’s dealing with difficulties. But I know from my own life, that life actually is very much in between those two. It’s our faithfulness that’s important, our perseverance through the ups and downs of life. That’s what gives the diocese its character. The steady way in which priests and people, deacons, religious, all of us, are steady in our application to our daily tasks and don’t give up, don’t lose heart, and every now then get a terrific boost from special occasions, precious moments, which keep us going.”
Follow the Lord
“One of the joys for me is that every now and then I receive letters from children. The other day I received one from a child who wrote a little axiom that has stuck in my mind: ‘Follow the Lord - you won’t get bored.’ And there is certainly no boredom in my life.”
Archbishop Vincent is constantly asked to comment on different issues. He said he usually confers with his team and decides to comment either when “there is a clear perspective from the Christian point of view that needs expressing or, according to the rhythm of what I am going to be doing anyway.”
He explained: “Recently for example, we had a Caritas conference. That enabled me to make some comments on the Prime Minister’s project; or as he calls it, the Big Society. Shortly after that was a Mass for those who were celebrating their wedding anniversaries. That too, enabled me to comment on words that the Prime Minster had used, about the importance of marriage today.”
The ‘rumour of God’
“The other great thing the Catholic Church in London and Hertfordshire contributes is ‘to keep the rumour of God alive’. Our churches are places of beauty. Our people are people of prayer. They will put into their conversation: ‘I’ll remember you in my prayers’. And in a hundred different ways, we keep open the experience of life to the presence of God.
Conversation in Caritas
Through ‘Conversation in Caritas’ we’ve been hearing about the great enthusiasm there is in parishes for looking at local needs in the community and trying to respond to them.
“One of the pictures that is emerging is that the response of the church, out of love for the Lord, to those in need, is something about which we have only the vaguest impression here at the centre. It’s as if all this good work goes on in a great series of corner shops and not everybody knows what the other shop is doing or even where they are.”
”Recently I spent the day at Allen Hall (the diocesan seminary). The staff spoke of the dedication and enthusiasm of the young men studying to be priests. There is among them, a freely-given seriousness about what they want to do with their lives.”
“The fact that there will be four ordinations this summer and our seminarians will be joined by ten more in September, is a tribute to the faith of families and parishes. That’s where vocations are sensed and nurtured or, missed and discouraged. Every parish ought to be asking itself, how do we nurture in our parish vocations to the priesthood.”
Fasting on Fridays
“The Bishops’ Conference has decided to invite Catholics to understand again the importance of self-denial which springs from that self-sacrificing love of Christ who denied himself that we might have life.
“What better day than Friday because it’s the day on which our Lord died and made that ultimate self-sacrifice. If someone is a vegetarian, please give up something else, so that together as a family, as schools, communities, in public where we can, we have a common cause, we have a habit we learn together and support each other in.”
“We are not trying to make a public point. We are trying first of all to be closer to Christ. In our openness to the things of God and in our sense of Christ being with us at every moment.
Not eating meat on a Friday is a gesture, a reminder of something that tells us every week we have a very particular take on life. The gift of faith. It’s something we treasure.”
“At present there is a wonderful exhibition in the British Museum of reliquaries from around the world (Treasures of Heaven). It is quite unique and astonishingly beautiful. They are eloquent in the way in they show how humanity treasures the spiritual. It’s well worth a visit.”
Welcoming the stranger
“London is a city of enormous compassion. People come here from all over the world, and for the most part find a welcome. We need to make sure that as Catholics we welcome strangers and those in need and in danger.
That we make space for them and say yes, especially in the Catholic Church, you are part of one family of which we are proud to be members.”
Hopes for the future
“My basic hope is that all of us stay faithful to the Lord. What we best do to prepare for the future is to live today well. To make of today a gift to the Lord. If we do that each day, that will be our future taken care of. It’s in his hands, so I don’t worry too much about the future.”