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Archbishop John Wilson

Archbishop of Southwark: family is the ‘building block’ of Church life

Archbishop John Wilson speaks to the SCO about the vital importance of Catholic marriage

Archbishop John Wilson is in Scotland this month to speak on marriage and family life in the context of Pope Francis’ encyclical Amoris laetitia.

Here he tells the SCO about the beauty and challenges of marriage and family life.

Q. How are you getting on in your post of Archbishop of Southwark in London?

A. I was installed in July and I’m still finding my feet—it’s a big diocese. But I’m learning fast and people have been very kind.


Q. You are visiting Edinburgh. What will your talk be about?

A. The Pope’s encyclical Amoris laetitia and the Church’s vision for marriage and family. It’s a positive, life-giving proposal. It’s about what it is to be created in the image and likeness of God, male and female, and how we live that through the vocation of marriage and family life.


Q. How important is marriage in the Catholic Church?

A. There’s a timelessness about the Sacrament because it’s rooted in the truth of Faith. Marriage in the 21st century faces lots of challenges, but in a sense the beauty of what we propose is the same. How we propose it is part of the challenge of the new evangelisation—it’s not a new proposition about the Faith, it’s a presentation of the Faith which is new in its method and its ardour. So it’s also about how we communicate the beauty of marriage today.


Q. And how important is the family unit?

A. I always remember in Familiaris consortio, St Pope John Paul II used a lovely phrase when he said ‘the future of humanity passes by way of the family.’ The family—that domestic church—is the building block of our communities and the life of our Church. So, to look at how we strengthen the life of the family, we promote family life and the spirituality and sense of vocation of the family too. In my talk I’ll be looking at that as well as how we can support people in the challenges they face.


Q. What are those challenges?

A. One of the biggest is the crisis of Faith. The struggle for some people to believe in God, to want to belong to the Church to the extent that they want to have their marriage blessed in the Church as a Christian Sacrament. The crisis of the Faith is alive in all of that.


Q. What other challenges are there?

A. There’s a challenge for many people to understand the Church’s vision of the human person and of sexuality and what that means. Some are challenged by permanence—making a definitive commitment to another. We can see that in other vocations, like the priesthood, where people see it as a challenge to make a life-long commitment.

Some people are challenged by the experience of broken relationships and marriages and the pain of separation and divorce. That can also present a challenge for children and extended family. Pope Francis talks about the relationship between the generations, to reignite something of that connection between all the generations—recognising the important role of grandparents, aunts and uncles.


Q. Your talk will reflect on Pope Francis’s encyclical Amoris laetitia—what are its main themes?

A. Pope Francis touches on lots of themes from Scripture and the tradition of the Church. That includes the pastoral reality of our experience about the joy of God’s gift of love. That’s experienced in a special way through the Sacrament of marriage.

Pope Francis has a lovely exposition of St Paul’s hymn to love in Corinthians, so the encyclical is very scripturally based. He looks at the spirituality of the family and how we can, in his words, properly discern people in terms of the family and their vocation, how we can accompany people in terms of their relationships and how we can help them integrate more fully into the life of Faith. So those three words are important for Pope Francis in Amoris laetitia—discernment, accompaniment, and integration. It’s also about how we build up the body of Christ and the life of Faith together.


Q. There must be many positive examples of marriage you’ve witnessed, particularly among older couples whose longevity is testament to their Faith.

A. I think the example parents give of their loving relationship and their Faith as disciples together overflows into the life of their children. It’s the best foundation someone can have for a life of Faith themselves.


Q. So home life is crucial for spiritual formation…

A. The Church says beautifully that parents are the first teachers of their children in the way of Faith. We hear those words in the Rite of Baptism. It’s a place of prayer and formation, where you learn the virtues and the Gospel through the example of parents and extended family, and siblings… but they don’t always get on do they? [laughs]. That’s all part of shaping us.


Q. Why should people come along to the event?

A. It’s an opportunity to reflect together on the vocation to love, expressed through the life of the family. It’s for those who are desirous to support and strengthen family relationships as the foundation of society for the good of each other. So if you believe in the vocation to love in the context of the family, come along!

‘Your Marriage is your Vocation’ is a free event taking place at the Gillis Centre, 100 Strathearn Road, Edinburgh, on Saturday, October 26, 2-5pm. Book your place on Eventbrite, or call 0131 623 8900.


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