The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton is to become Archbishop of Westminster

It ended months of speculation about who would succeed the late Cardinal Basil Hume. When Cormac Murphy O'Connor was four years old, he announced to his parents he intended to become either "a doctor or Pope".

In the years to follow, he was to lay the foundations for a career within the church and yesterday sealed his reputation as one of the institution's most important figures.

As a former rugby player and music lover, Archbishop-elect Murphy

O'Connor is expected to bring a human side to the Roman Catholic Church and build bridges with the Anglican community and other faiths.

Well known for his sense of humour and ability to empathise with his flock, he was being tipped as the successor to Cardinal Hume as early as last June.

Speaking after the appointment, he said he was neither a "conservative nor a liberal" but a man of the church whose greatest strength was working with people.

He spoke of hopes for a "reinvigorated" church which would show people, especially the young, that it had a very real role to play in society. "I want people to see Christianity not as something to do with prayer, but something that you live out in service of others," he said.

The Archbishop-elect was born on August 24, 1932, in Reading, Berkshire, as the fifth son of George and Ellen. He was educated in Reading before boarding at a secondary school in Bath. In 1950 he began his training for the priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome.

He obtained a degree in philosophy and theology while in Italy and was ordained as a priest on October 28, 1956. In the following 21 years, he served in a number of roles in Hampshire before being appointed parish priest of the Immaculate Conception parish in Southampton in 1970.

Just a year later, he was appointed Rector of the English College in Rome, responsible for training students for the priesthood, and in 1977 was made Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. Throughout his career, the Archbishop-elect has been known for his ecumenical zeal and commitment to building bridges with the Anglican Church.

In 1977, he was host to the Archbishop of Canterbury during his historic visit to meet Pope Paul VI in Rome and he has been chairman of the Commission for Christian Unity since 1983.

Yesterday he reinforced this commitment, saying: "I think it goes without saying I would want to co-operate with my Anglican and Free Church friends in every way that is open to me to bring the Good News of the Gospel to people today. I recognise too the place of other faiths and the need for dialogue and to co-operate together. In all this I believe that the Catholic community has a distinctive and vital role to play and we will fulfil it with all the generosity of which we are capable.

"In a strange way, these are good times to be a Christian, good times to be a disciple of Jesus Christ because His Good News and message is real - and is able to set people free. I believe the people of our countries need to hear this voice more urgently than ever."

On the subject of Clause 28, the Archbishop-elect said he understood the reasons for the clause and were it to be abolished, he would be asking for assurances that family values continued to be taught in schools. "If it was to go, I would be asking the Government to ensure they kept the promise they made to teach the primacy of family life."

On a more personal level, the Archbishop-elect has become a well-known and much-loved member of his community in the past 23 years. He is a keen cricketer, a follower of the fortunes of Brighton and Hove Albion and played rugby in his youth.

The former Portsmouth Rugby Club player spoke of his love of rugby, golf and football, and admitted following the fortunes of Reading, Portsmouth and Brighton football clubs. "Not that I am fickle, you understand," he explained. "I was born in Reading, but I was a priest in Portsmouth - but now there is also a bit of my heart in Brighton."

The Archbishop-elect also revealed he had played rugby while in Rome as part of a "Vatican XV". He said he played centre - a position he hoped to maintain on and off the field.

Given his past, his appointment to succeed Basil Hume was seen as a modern choice for the new millennium. He said: "When I became a bishop I chose as my motto the words Gaudium et Spes. These words, meaning Joy and Hope, are the beginning of the Constitution of the Vatican Council on The Church in the Modern World.

"I think the two gifts of joy and hope are those most needed by people today. People are often oppressed by a sense of guilt, failure, stress and sin." He added: "There is great goodwill and goodness in our society but it is true to say that Christian practice and the Christian message have been diminished in England and Wales over recent years.

"While there is nothing that can take its place, an attempt has been made by, among others, the culture of consumerism. This is a seduction that assumes that everything can be bought and sold and that even human beings are assessed by what they have rather than who they are.

"The church believes that Christian faith is the potent force that allows us to be freed from a view of the world that ultimately can enslave us."

Religious figures and leaders from around the county today congratulated the Archbishop-elect. Monsignor John Hull, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, said: "While we are very sad to be losing our bishop, we are extremely proud that he has been chosen for this important ministry in the life of the church. His warmth, humour, care and spiritual leadership have been a source of great inspiration and he has touched the lives of many people in Surrey and Sussex."

Father Douglas McKittrick, Vicar of Brighton, added: "Clearly he is a man of considerable spiritual depth which is shown in his discipline and his humanity. "He has a great sense of humour and enjoys telling good stories which often puts people at ease. He is passionate about Christian unity and works very hard with Anglicans."

Hove Labour MP Ivor Caplin said: "He will without doubt make an excellent Archbishop. "He has done an excellent job for Catholicism and inter-faith work locally and I'm sure he will continue this at a national level. He deserves promotion."

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