THE appointment this week of a former Southampton Catholic priest as leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has been warmly greeted by catholics in Hampshire.

On Tuesday, The Most Reverend Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was announced as the next Archbishop of Westmin-ster, succeeding Cardinal Basil Hume who died last June.

The appointment of the 67-year-old to the top job follows months of speculation as to which English priest the Pope regarded as a safe pair of hands.

It is widely regarded that Cardinal Hume's successor will need to be active in stemming declining church attendance, as well as encouraging more people to train for ordination.

Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, currently Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, was an assistant priest at the Sacred Heart parish in Fareham in 1963, and also worked as a chaplain to the then Bishop of Portsmouth.

In 1970-71 he was parish priest in Portswood and then a lecturer at the Church's English College in Rome.

Canon John O'Shea, catholic dean of Southampton said: "Throughout Hampshire and the diocese there is tremendous joy over the appointment.

"Cormac was priest of our diocese and many of us have known and worked with him for many years. He is a very genial character, and a man with a fund of stories.

"He's a singer, entertainer, and a good golfer - regularly taking part in our annual clergy golf competition.

"He'll bring renewal of his clergy and lay people alike.

"In his own diocese he initiated a renewal programme in every church through small group work.

"I believe his enthusiasm and love of the Church will lead to a yearning in all of us to move forward.

"Cormac brings fresh energy and enthusiasm to the task.

"He won't be afraid to make changes, or take risks.

"He believes the Church needs to manage change." The new archbishop's brother, Brian, 71, is parish priest at St Ann's in Brockenhurst.

He added: "I am thrilled for Cormac. "I couldn't think of a better man for the job.

"He has enormous talent and humility to go with it.

"And after 22 years as a local bishop, he should be able to handle the pressures by now."

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