Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 17:16 UK

Special Mass celebrates marriage

Bert and Esther Buckingham on their wedding day
Bert and Esther Buckingham are celebrating 50 years of marriage

Hundreds of couples with thousands of years of marriage between them have renewed their vows during a special service at Westminster Cathedral.

About 700 couples who have been married for between 10 to 60 years attended.

The celebration was led by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales.

It was intended to highlight the importance of marriage as an institution

"You speak to any government official or social services and you'll find that much of the trouble that comes - whether it's crime or disruption - is from broken families," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said.

"So the breakdown of marriage in my view is one of the greatest evils of our day.

Ups and downs

"Many, many young people, when expressing their dreams and hopes express the desire to one day be happily married and to have a family."

People do not give marriage a chance today. People give up too easily
Esther Buckingham

Ann and John Ward, from Bethnal Green, east London, will celebrate 50 years of marriage in August.

Mrs Ward said: "In a marriage you need patience, tolerance and to take the good times with the bad. We've had a lot of bad times and got through them, and we've had a lot of good times."

And she added: "Things have changed and young people want so much now. They want certain things before they get married. And divorces are so quick now and it's easy to walk away.

"You've got to work at it."

Esther Buckingham and her husband Bert from St Albans, Hertfordshire, who celebrate their 50th anniversary in June, were among those at the service.

Cohabitation

"We've had our ups and downs, but we are very happy," she said.

"That is not to say that marriage is easy, but people do not give marriage a chance today. People give up too easily.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor says marriage breakdown 'is one of the greatest evils'

Marriage rates in England and Wales are at their lowest since records began, but it remains the most common form of domestic partnership.

In 2006, the number of marriages fell by 4% on the previous year to 236,980, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In 2006 there were 12.2 divorcing people per 1,000 married population - the lowest rate is since 1984.

Cohabitation has roughly doubled in the past 20 years to 24% of men aged under 60 and 25% of women.




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