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BENEDICT XVI IN THE UNITED...
from issue no. 08/09 - 2010

UNITED KINGDOM 16-19 SEPTEMBER 2010

An extraordinary visit


The journey of Benedict XVI in the account of the Archbishop of Westminster: “Of course the events, whether large or small, had to be organised. But the way in which they have touched the hearts of millions is entirely of another order. It is of the order of grace, and the true fruit of constant prayer”


by Vincent Nichols


Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, greets Benedict XVI on arrival at the international airport of Edinburgh, in Scotland, Thursday 16 September <BR>[© Osservatore Romano]

Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, greets Benedict XVI on arrival at the international airport of Edinburgh, in Scotland, Thursday 16 September
[© Osservatore Romano]

Since the end of the Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom, messages of joy and thanksgiving have been coming in from all over the world. We know that this was a Visit of such importance and encouragement to everyone here in the UK. But it has been a world-wide event, too. Messages have come from as far afield as Bangladesh, Buenos Aires and Peru, to mention just a few!
Many are messages offering congratulations to all who played a part in organising the Visit. But I think we are aware that the true success of the Visit was the result of constant prayer. Of course the events, whether large or small, had to be organised. But the way in which they have touched the hearts of millions is entirely of another order. It is of the order of grace, and the true fruit of constant prayer, throughout the Church, for the Holy Father.
An overwhelming memory of the Visit is the remarkable and consistent love and joy with which the Pope was received. It was my privilege to travel with the Holy Father through the streets of London. Over 200,000 people were there on the Saturday evening, as well as the great crowds of Friday evening. There was a constant explosion of joy and excitement as the Holy Father travelled along. Faces were radiant and hearts were encouraged by his presence. The same was true of the remarkable first day of the Visit, in Scotland.
The more formal occasions were marked by the same atmosphere. Her Majesty the Queen, who issued the invitation to Pope Benedict to come to the United Kingdom on this State Visit, was radiant. The political leaders, who came to Archbishop’s House to meet the Holy Father, were full of smiles and joy. But most of all, I will never forget the warmth of the reception given to him in that most solemn of settings, Westminster Hall, by that most remarkable assembly of political and civic leaders. It was astonishing that the heart-felt applause and smiles never wavered throughout the long, slow walk made by the Holy Father down the length of that Great Hall.
If the reception of the Holy Father, and the response he received were truly magnificent, then the message and example he gave are equally memorable and worthy of our most careful attention.
He came to support and strengthen the place of faith in God in our pluralist society. He came to point to the richness of our Christian traditions and the danger of minimising or marginalising them. I think he was heard. I think ordinary people recognised the importance of what he was saying. I think those in Westminster Hall were deeply impressed by the depth and care of his address. He posed the crucial issue in these words: ‘If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident.’ He then went on to explore the role of faith and reason in providing a firm ethical foundation for political choices. He stated clearly: ‘Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.’ This is a speech everyone should study carefully.
I think the Holy Father has contributed most significantly to our history, to the way we talk to each other and to the way we go about shaping our future.
The Prime Minister spoke most warmly in his closing address to the Holy Father. He described the Visit as ‘a great honour for our country’. He assured the Pope that ‘Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been and it always will be.’ Then he added: ‘You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think.’
This Visit will have many long-term effects. There should be much closer cooperation between the Holy See and our Government in tackling some of the great problems of the world: poverty, the lack of primary education, care for the environment, and the fight against disease.
For us, too, there are lessons to learn. I believe that the Holy Father has taught us the manner in which to approach the task of presenting our faith to our complex society. What he did, we must learn to do, consistently and carefully. He showed such a gentle courtesy to all he met. He was open-hearted. He was sensitive to those he was addressing, recognising our achievements and our anxieties. He spoke with clarity and reason, not afraid to face difficult issues, but addressing them with care and feeling. He did not overstate the claims of religious belief, but recognised the way in which reason and faith can complement and correct each other. He has given us a model which we, for our part, must follow.
The exchange of gifts between Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Elizabeth II during the audience in the Morning Drawing Room of Holyroodhouse Royal Palace, in Edinburgh, in Scotland, Thursday 16 September <BR>[© Associated Press/La Presse]

The exchange of gifts between Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Elizabeth II during the audience in the Morning Drawing Room of Holyroodhouse Royal Palace, in Edinburgh, in Scotland, Thursday 16 September
[© Associated Press/La Presse]

The Holy Father entered many of the key areas of dialogue in which all must be engaged. He spent time in prayer and discussion with Archbishop Rowan Williams. They prayed together, spoke together to their bishops and to the great congregation in Westminster Abbey. The Holy Father met with key members of other faiths and religions: those who play a leading role in society and those who are the faith leaders themselves. He met with choirboys, cleaners, cooks; with policeman and office workers; with teachers and religious men and women. He came in an open-hearted manner and won the hearts of all. The motto chosen for the Visit was so correct: ‘Heart speaks unto heart.’ I also believe that he has shown us what must lie at the heart of the witness we give. In his homily in Westminster Cathedral he said that we have to witness first to the beauty of holiness. In my view the beauty of the liturgical events of the Visit was largely what made them so attractive. So, too, were the times of silence which characterised each of them. Who can ever forget the depth of the silence of 80,000 people in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in Hyde Park? This silence is golden, beautiful and deeply satisfying.
The Pope also said we must witness to the goodness and attractiveness of the truth – to the ‘splendour of the truth’. This is such a different approach to one which sees truth as something to be presented forcibly or sternly. Truth has its own appeal.
Then, thirdly, he asked us to bear witness to the ‘joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ’. This, of course, is a joy and freedom that comes from the experience of being forgiven, of being healed, something which happens to us most clearly of all through the Sacraments of the Church. The Blood of Christ is our salvation, and the source of our freedom and joy.
The climax of the Visit was, of course, the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. The ceremony in Cofton Park was beautiful. So many who have grown in affection for John Henry Newman, whether through his writings, his poetry or his parish ministry, were overjoyed at this moment. Now we have a beatified English Parish Priest. What a privilege and what an inspiration! We thank God for the wonder of this most exceptional Visit. We look to the months and years ahead during which we can absorb the graces and lessons of this marvellous Apostolic Journey.

28 September 2010


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