by Gordon Nary
Gordon: You have a fascinating background which I hope you will share with our readers. Please provide and overview on the annual Mass of Thanksgiving for Matrimony at Westminster Cathedral.
Edmund: The Annual Mass of Thanksgiving for Matrimony at Westminster Cathedral is a special event every year on the Vigil of Pentecost. Each parish is asked to send in names and addresses of any validly married couple for whom the current year marks a significant wedding anniversary. So spouses celebrating 10, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 60+ years of marriage are invited to notify the diocese. Then on behalf of the Cardinal Archbishop personal invitations are sent to every single couple registered to attend Holy Mass during which the Archbishop invites the spouses to renew their promises to one another and receive a solemn blessing for their marriages. It is always an incredibly moving occasion for all concerned. The Cathedral is always full. The first year we hosted it was 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The collective total number of years of marriage between all the couples attending was 40,000 years! It made for a great headline in the news "40,000 Years married" - even the BBC and SKY news got interested and it became a fantastic good news story nationwide. An estimated 10,000+ spouses ever since then have participated in the annual celebration. I am very proud of the initiative as I was inspired in prayer to propose it to the late Cardinal Murphy O'Connor and he agreed to it. 13 years on and the rest is history as they say- though of course the 2020 event had to be cancelled sadly. Most Bishops and dioceses in England and Wales now have their own annual celebrations for spouses.
Gordon: When were you appointed to the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, Working Party on the Order of Christian Marriage, Marriage preparation working party and what were your primary responsibilities?
Edmund: It was around 2009/10 and my main responsibility was to represent Bishop Alan Hopes the then Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster who was Chair of the Liturgy Commission who specifically asked me to bring my pastoral knowledge, experience of marriage and theological expertise to the discussions about the shape and format that the new Rite was going to take.
Gordon: When you served on the Advisory Boards of the National Office for Vocation what were your primary responsibilities?
Edmund: I was simply part of a diverse group of people from around the country whose role it was to help Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough to shape national policy and strategy on vocations promotion to priesthood, religious life and marriage, as well as help with strategic planning around things like World Youth Day and any national youth events that were to be discussed. I left the Board in 2016 when I moved on to my role in Portsmouth diocese.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of your presentation on “The Centrality of the Person in the Prevention and Treatment of HIV Diseases” at May 2011 the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers/
Edmund: In supporting those with HIV, theology of the body concerns the human body, informs those with physical and psychological ailments and their careers One of the problems with being a patient is a threat to losing one’s subjectivity. A tension exists between remaining a “subject of one’s illness” and becoming an “object of treatment.” Healthcare encompasses spiritual well being and is a mutual complimentarily of personhood between healer and patient, based upon the reality that we are created in the image and likeness of a relational, triune God. This sense of personhood is characterized by relationships of love, acceptance, and above all of complete self-donation. The full speech is here: http://www.cmq.org.uk/CMQ/2012/May/centrality_of_the_person%20in_HIV_disease.html
Gordon: When and why were you awarded the Family Values Award in 2011?
Edmund: I received the 2011 Family Values Award from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,(The Mormons) who annually honor members of the community who make significant contributions to help and sustain the institution of the family. My fellow recipient was the globally renowned academic and scholar Dr. Phillip Blond, Director and founder of the ResPublica think tank. I was commended for the practical work to promote ‘marriage as part of Christian living’.
Gordon: Your work in alleviating poverty is legendary. Please share with our readers your work with St. John Southworth Fund grants program on behalf of the Archbishops of Westminster which awarded several million pounds to alleviate poverty and deprivation for children and families across London.
Edmund: The St John Southworth Fund was named after the martyr priest and Saint, born in 1592 who was ordained in Douai, France, in 1618. Returning to England, Fr Southworth ministered in the area close to where Westminster Cathedral now stands. During the plague of 1636, he tended to the sick with devotion and courage.
I set up the Fund in 2007 utilizing unspent assets from within diocesan finances to assist the homeless, migrants and refugees, children in need, youth education, disability support, pastoral support for the elderly, and other projects in London. Funds were made available to provide help in all 33 London boroughs, in accordance with the wishes of the original benefactors. I facilitated the awarding of grants totaling £2.6m over a 5 year period until at the request of Archbishop Nichols, I helped establish the new "CARITAS- Westminster Agency" which incorporated the Fund into a new grant-making scheme.
Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of Communion of Persons: A Challenge for Morality”. The Stages of life and the ‘Communion of Persons’: A Challenge for Morality”.
Edmund: I was invited by the St John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family in Rome to contribute to the post-symposium publication of the keynote presentations in 2006. So my chapter was a review and commentary on some of the key features of those talks. I focus on how the inter-generational dynamic between youth and old age is such a central component to the moral formation and personal development of everybody and how what the generations learn from each other shapes the way we think and feel about the goodness and beauty of God's plan for humanity in the lifelong union of man and woman and most importantly the complimentarily of the sexes. It was quite an undertaking as the entire script had to be translated into Italian before it could be submitted for publication. A good friend of mine who lectured at Reading University did it for me and it was a real labor of love and sacrifice for which I will always be grateful.
Gordon: What were your responsibilities as an external affiliate of the new Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham?
Edmund: I don't have any responsibilities as such. I was asked to become a supporter, promoter, and occasional contributor to the mission of the Centre which was established by my good friend Professor Stephen Bullivant who lectures at St. Mary's University, Twickenham. The Centre was opened as a tribute to and legacy from the Papal Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Great Britain in 2010 which included the University on his itinerary. I collaborated with Professor Bullivant as representatives of the Centre at a symposium at Ave Maria University, Florida celebrating the encyclical "Humanae Vitae"
Gordon: You have spent over 30 years working across 5 different Catholic dioceses in Britain in the field of evangelization, catechesis, faith formation, and diverse arenas of pastoral care. What are some of your achievements of which you are most proud?
Edmund: That's a really tough question to answer but I think the highlights have to be the successful introduction to the UK of the https://smartloving.org/uk/ programmes, enabling hundreds of marriages to be rescued from separation and divorce through www.retrouvaille.org.uk and initiating the unique marriage enrichment retreat www.loving4lifeco.uk In some respects I don't really feel much of my work has been "successful" but rather "faithful" to the Lord and if by His grace it has done some good along the way then I am content. The other projects I am grateful to God for are bringing the relic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe around Britain on a nine-month "novena" tour to prepare and give thanks for the 2010 papal visit and being part of the team which hosted the beautiful pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa to Britain in November 2012 as part of the worldwide https://www.fromoceantoocean.org/ pro-life, pro-family spiritual initiative which is still ongoing.
Gordon: What were your primary responsibilities as Director for Pastoral Affairs -Archdiocese of Westminster during 2004-2012?
Edmund: Among many duties, I had to line manage the various social welfare type agencies in the diocese addressing specific pastoral needs from HIV to the needs of the Deaf community as well as manage the grant foundation and be a consultant to the Archbishop and His Council across a range of social affairs.
Gordon: What were your responsibilities as Director for Marriage and Family Life, Archdiocese of Westminster during 2012 -2916?
Edmund: Mostly to coordinate and support parishes in marriage preparation, marriage support/enrichment, and marriage restoration. I also organized multiple platforms of ongoing adult faith formation and pastoral/theological formation for clergy in the pastoral care of the family. I project managed all of the consultations for the Archdiocese around the Extraordinary Synod of 2014 and the Ordinary Synod of 2015. This included assisting the Cardinal with the text of his interventions at both events which was a great honor.
Gordon: What were your primary responsibilities as Diocesan Schools commissioner/Professional Adviser to Episcopal Vicar for Education. Diocese of Portsmouth during 2016-2019?
Edmund: My main duties were to support over 70 schools with their senior recruitment needs, shaping policy on relationships and sex education; designing and providing ongoing formation for senior leaders and teachers in catholic education; as well as advising the Bishop on all matters relating to educational policy in response to government regulations and expectations. It was my duty to inspire schools to go deeper into understanding and enriching their Catholic character and mission.
Gordon: What is your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?
Edmund: Currently I have been an Education Consultant to the new and groundbreaking formation programme for children entitled www.fertileheart.org.uk It's a new carefully crafted and designed scheme of work with excellent online resources to assist educators in navigating the sometimes challenging expectations of guiding pupils in understanding authentic relationships and human sexuality. It has been one of the most rewarding of projects, working with some really mission-oriented people but sadly due to the financial impact of the COVID pandemic my contract cannot be renewed and I am now seeking new employment. God willing I will find something soon.
Gordon: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on Catholic education in the United Kingdom?
Edmund: I think principally the same as on any school community. A time of immense challenge and strain for teachers, leaders, and of course the children themselves. And yet despite all that has happened and continues to happen and the uncertainty that goes with it - it has probably caused many in Catholic education to rely far more on their faith and spirituality than they normally would- to be people of deeper dependence on the Lord going forward in hope and trust that things will get better and that is no bad thing.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.