London Prelate: Everything's Set for Pope's Visit

Government Representative Foresees Huge Success

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LONDON, SEPT. 1, 2010 ( With just over two weeks before Benedict XVI sets foot in the United Kingdom, the archbishop of Westminster says that «things are in place now» and the visit will unfold in a «very excellent way.»

Archbishop Vincent Nichols made this affirmation at a press conference Tuesday with Lord Chris Patten, the prime minister’s representative since June for overseeing the papal visit.

Patten began the comments by saying Benedict XVI’s visit «deserves the word ‘historic.'» He affirmed that «the new coalition government is delighted that the Pope accepted [the queen’s] invitation, and regards his visit here later this month as an extremely special moment for all of us, whether Christians, Catholics, or not.»

There are various reasons for the anticipation, the government official affirmed. First, the Pope represents 10% of the country’s citizens, and more than 1 billion people worldwide. And the British government and the Church work closely together toward «social equity and sustainable development,» Patten said. «We don’t share every policy position but we work extremely closely with the Church in Africa, in Asia, in the United Nations.»

The Church also makes an «important contribution,» Patten continued, «to the social development of our society, and in particular to education. […] So for all those reasons the Pope’s visit is hugely welcome. But it’s also welcome I think because of its assertion of the important role that religion, that Christianity, has played in the shaping of our own society. I think people will be listening to what His Holiness has to say about the relationship between religion and some of the other presently dominant influences in our society and in Europe as a whole.»

Patten reflected on the role of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be beatified by the Pope on the last day of the visit.
He said, «Cardinal Newman was described at the time of his death by the Manchester Guardian, as it then was, as the greatest Englishman and certainly the greatest writer of the English language.»

Patten summarized the visit as giving the Holy Father a chance to meet «representatives of civil society, other faith groups, political leaders, and of course Christians and Catholics. The arrangements have been taken forward very well. […] I think that everything is in place for what I hope will be a visit which will of course be seen not only by people in this country, but by hundreds of millions around the world.»
«We would expect a huge amount of global attention for his visit here,» he continued. «So I think this visit will be hugely interesting, hugely successful, and the one thing we can’t hand-on-heart guarantee is the weather, but we hope it will be more like Rome than Oslo.»

Speaking to hearts

Archbishop Nichols gave perspectives from the Catholic community, saying that «we look forward to it with great confidence and ease. We know that things are in place now and that this visit will unfold in a very excellent way.»

He reflected on differences between this papal visit, and Pope John Paul II’s 1982 U.K. trip.

«[John Paul II’s visit] was in response to an invitation extended by the Catholic community, and in a way the rest of society in Britain watched. They watched with interest, they watched with some curiosity, but nevertheless it was quite a spectacle, but it was a Catholic spectacle,» the archbishop said. «This is different because now the Pope has been invited to address U.K. society. Clearly there is a strong Catholic component to the events but nevertheless in response to the invitation he will address the society of our country at this crucial time. So we look forward to it very, very much indeed.»

Archbishop Nichols reflected on three levels to the trip: its aspect as a meeting between the United Kingdom and the Holy See, the «profound historic and cultural implications and ramifications for the visit» and the perspective of «the role of faith in society at a personal and community level.»

Regarding the second point, the prelate noted: «[T]he image of Her Majesty the Queen welcoming Pope Benedict and formally greeting each other is one that will resonate through the story of this land. When the Pope enters Westminster Hall on the Friday evening to address politicians, diplomats, leaders of this society, that will be another very historic and resonant moment. The Pope will pause at the spot at which St. Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, was condemned to death in 1535 for his Catholic faith. He will be on that spot. He will also, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, go to pray at the tomb of St. Edward the confessor, the canonized King of England, the founder of Westminster Abbey.

«And that too will enable us, as it were, to reach back into the deeper roots of who this nation is, who we are, and what our cultural roots are, and how refreshing they can be when they are seen to be a living source of inspiration for people today. And I think the fact that the Pope will also meet with leaders of society, who are men and women of all the different faiths present in this country, will also be a moment in which the Pope affirms the role of the breadth of faith in God as found here as a contributor to the common good.»
Finally, Archbishop Nichols reflected on the beatification of Cardinal Newman, noting that the theme of the trip was the cardinal’s motto: «heart speaks unto heart.»

«Because,» the archbishop explained, «he said it’s through the imagination, it is through the metaphors, it is through the language of the heart, that the things of God most come through to us. Rather than through the logic of argument or eloquent discourse.»

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