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Young people still desire to marry despite the crisis surrounding marriage in the contemporary U.K., and Catholics need to defend marriage as God intends it, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has said.

Bishop Davies said in a Feb. 10 homily: “may we all recognize our own part in raising our voices and giving our witness to the perennial, enduring gift and grace of marriage of which God himself is the Author.”

The bishop spoke during the diocese’s annual Mass in celebration of marriage, held at the Church of Our Lady and St. Christopher in Romiley, about 80 miles northeast of Shrewsbury. The Mass celebrates significant wedding anniversaries of those in the congregation.

“Generations to come will surely be surprised that we failed as a society, and sometimes even as Christians, to actively propose and defend marriage as it came from the hands of the Creator,” said Bishop Davies.

Christ raised marriage to a sacrament and the Scriptures speak of marriage’s “high purpose” as an image of Christ and the Church, he explained. “Christ chose to begin his public life at a wedding, thereby confirming the goodness of marriage; indeed, the first of his miracles would be for the sake of a married couple,” the bishop added.

However, he spoke of a “human and social crisis” surrounding marriage, an issue which he said should be “raised to the very top of our public concerns.”

He cited “disturbing trends” like historic lows in the U.K. marriage rate and the high divorce rate. There are predictions that only half of today’s 20-year-olds will ever marry, with under 25 percent of those with lower incomes ever marrying.

At the same time, about 75 percent of young people aged 14 to 17 said marriage is one of the key aspirations of their lives, said the bishop, citing the Centre for Social Justice.

“It should not surprise us that, in the face of every discouraging trend, the young still aspire to the vocation of marriage for this was inscribed by the Creator into the very nature of man and woman,” he said.

Bishop Davies’ homily comes as the U.K. government seeks to change marriage registration for the first time since 1837. It would allow opposite-sex couples to register civil partnerships instead of marriages.

If approved, the changes would mean that couples are no longer given a marriage certificate on their wedding day, the Daily Telegraph reports. Couples will not sign an official register that day, but an electronic register will replace the system of registers now held in churches. Marriage certificates will also carry a mother’s name and occupation.

Bishop Davies suggested the proposal has its priorities wrong.

Until recently, he said, the state “recognized the bond of marriage and with great reverence sought to protect it as vital to the well-being of society and the health of the family.”

“If the present government is seeking the greatest shake-up of marriage registration laws for 200 years then it should surely be seeking to strengthen marriage not to further undermine it,” he said.

“The Church has always recognized divine wisdom in this call to love and faithfulness inherently open to receive the gift of children,” he added. “She possesses no authority to change or compromise the promises on which marriage rests.”

Citing the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, the bishop said the Church sees individual well-being as bound up with “the healthy state of married and family life.” The Church hopes to encourage Christians and “all who are trying to preserve and foster the dignity and supremely sacred value of the married state.”

Bishop Davies further voiced hope for new diocesan initiatives to promote the vocation of marriage and noted the work of the diocesan Caritas affiliate to “support the family in this time of crisis.”