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The papal visit to Britain

23 September 2010

First-hand accounts of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain, 16-19 September

THE ARRIVAL of Pope Benedict XVI in Edinburgh on Thursday, on the feast of St Ninian, marked the first ever state visit by any Pope to the United Kingdom.

The Pope was greeted at the airport by the Duke of Edinburgh, and the party travelled straight to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where the Queen was waiting.

In her speech of welcome, the Queen referred to the visit by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1982. She commented with pleasure on the advances made in understanding and communication between different faiths in the United Kingdom in the years since then.

The Pope, in reply, stated his satisfaction on the achievements of Church and state in the UK, citing the Good Friday Agreement. He also praised Britain for standing up to the Nazis, and warned about the influence of "aggressive atheism".

Proceedings at the Palace ended with a reception for invited dig­nitaries, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Pope departed in the Pope­mobile, accompanied by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith  O'Brien. Both were wearing shawls of the specially commissioned St Ninian tartan designed by Matthew Newsome.

Their progress along Princes Street had been preceded by a St Ninian's Day Parade featuring pipe bands and characters dressed as William Wal­lace, Robert the Bruce, Mary, Queen of Scots, Robert Burns, John Knox, and, of course, St Ninian. The crowds were estimated to number 100,000.

I was in Glasgow with an esti­mated 70,000 other pilgrims in Bella­houston Park, waiting to take part in the papal mass later in the afternoon. The Pope toured the park in his Popemobile shortly before 5 p.m.

The mass began at 5.15. The platform had a specially commis­sioned altar made from Carrara marble and Scots pine. The Pope's chair was also built using Scots pine. Both were designed by Niamh Quail (with assistance from the "Rapid Pro­totyping Unit at Strathclyde Uni­versity").

An official welcome from the Archbishop of Glasgow, the Most Revd Mario Conti, alluded to St John Ogilvie, who was martyred in Glasgow, and also St Margaret.

Mass settings were composed by James MacMillan. The main choir consisted of singers from parishes across Scotland. Music was per­formed by brass and instrumental en­sembles, as well as by organ and clarsach.

The Pope's homily encouraged bishops to know and care for their priests, for priests to do the same for their parishioners, and for wider society, especially the young, to cherish their faith and to respect their bodies and minds. This will make us happy: drugs and other vices may give pleasure, but are destructive and divisive, he said.

With the end of the mass, a glorious and sunny papal day in Scotland came to an end.

William Dundas

RELIGION has an essential place in the foun­dations of a state, the Pope said on Friday afternoon.

In what was the key speech of his visit, delivered in Westminster Hall - which, John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, told Pope Benedict, was the "heart of our democratic tradition" - the Pope praised Britain's "pro­found influence on the development of participative government among the nations".

His audience consisted of members of both Houses of Parliament, along with hundreds of representatives of "civil society". All waited patiently, entertained occasionally by the band of the Coldstream Guards, as the Pope made his way across Lambeth Bridge and along Millbank.

Smalltalk was made - even on the dais where Gordon Brown was seated next to Tony and Cherie Blair, to­gether with John and Norma Major, Lady Thatcher, William Hague, and Nick Clegg. And then cheers from the crowd outside joined the clatter of police helicopters, and the Pope was ushered in to a fanfare from the state trumpet­ers.

After praising Britain's contribu­tion to participative government, the Pope moved on to a challenge: demo­cracy based merely on consensus was too fragile. He will have won support­ers for the example he chose of "the in­adequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and eth­ical problems": the global financial crisis.

He asked where the ethical founda­tions of a state were to be found, and placed them in the interplay between reason and religion. In the Catholic tradition, he said, the task of religion was to provide a corrective, "to help purify and shed light upon the appli­ca­tion of reason to the discovery of ob­jective moral principles". In order to do this, religion itself had to be sub­jected to reason.

Religion, then, was "not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversa­tion". Here, the Pope spoke again about the marginalisation of religion as he saw it in British society, supply­ing the tabloid newspapers with their headline by defending Christmas.

The Pope's speech was well re­ceived. There was long applause as he rose from the dais, pausing briefly to greet Mr Clegg and the past prime ministers and their wives. The ap­plause followed him the length of West­minster Hall, as he walked slowly in the company of the Speaker, who showed him the plaque marking the place where Sir Thomas More had been tried. Then it was out of the north door in the company of Dr Williams to depart for evening prayer across Parliament Square at West­minster Abbey.

Paul Handley

IN A historic meeting on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to visit Lambeth Palace. There he ad­dressed the Archbishops of Canter­bury and York, as well as diocesan bishops of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Pope was greeted with a warm round of applause in the Great Hall of the Archbishop's Library at Lambeth Palace.

After an opening prayer, Dr Wil­liams "recalled with great gratitude" the improved rela­tions between the two Churches during the past 50 years.

In his short address, Dr Williams urged the bishops present to be ready to "respond to the various trends in our cultural environment that seek to present Christian faith as both an ob­stacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect".

They "needed to be clear that the gospel of the new creation in Jesus Christ is the door through which we enter into true liberty and true under­standing".

Dr Williams said that neither Church sought "political power or control, or the dominance of the Christian faith in the public sphere; but the oppor­tunity to testify, to argue, sometimes to protest, sometimes to affirm - to play our part in the public debates of our societies".

In response, Pope Benedict gave thanks for the "remarkable progress" on unity and mission which had been made between the two Churches through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) in the past 40 years.

He acknowledged that the "increas­ingly multicultural dimension of soci­ety, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportun­ity to encounter other religions".

He said that this was an oppor­tunity for witness, and that "Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ."

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope then exchanged gifts, before the Pope led the bishops in the Lord's Prayer, and concluded with the Grace.

Dr Williams gave the Pope a leather-bound diptych of facsimile full-page illuminations from the Lambeth Bible, which dates from the 12th century. The Pope gave Dr Williams a copy of the Codex Pauli, a finely bound copy of a newly illus­trated text of all Paul's letters in Greek.

The Pope then was welcomed into the home of Dr Williams and his wife, Jane, for a private discussion.

A communiqué released after the meeting said that the two leaders addressed issues of mutual concern for Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and affirmed "the need to proclaim the gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ, both in a reasoned and con­vincing way in the contemporary context of profound cultural and social transformation".

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sen­tamu, said that the visit of the Pope was a "wonderful thing" and offered an opportunity for dialogue.

Dr Sentamu called for a spirit of "gra­cious magnanimity" towards the Pope from the British people, and praised Pope Benedict for his com­ments on aggressive secularism: "I've been at it for a long time now, so I'm very pleased he said something on it."

As he left Lambeth Palace for West­minster, the Pope was greeted by sup­port­ers and protesters. About 100 women from the Catholic Women's Ordina­tion Group, supported by mem­bers of Women and the Church (WATCH), held placards and banners.

The Revd Jean Mayland, a retired priest from Hexham, said she was reciprocating the support Anglican women had received in the past from Roman Catholics when they were campaigning for ordination in the Church of England. The human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was also there for a while, with other cam­paigners for survivors of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

Ed Beavan

THOSE fortunate enough to have tickets began lining up at the top of Great Smith Street before 3 p.m., to ensure that they obtained a decent spot in Westminster Abbey for evening prayer, and to witness the first Pope to enter the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster.

With registration by surname and airport-style security checks (includ­ing a request for a recent utility bill), they had a long wait. Not that the mixture of smartly dressed laypeople and clergy from across a variety of de­nominations seemed to mind. They hardly seemed to notice the handful of anti-Catholic proselytisers, distrib­ut­ing tracts across the other side of Victoria Street, and parading banners.

Once seated, the congregation was able to watch the Pope's journey from Lam­beth Palace to Westminster Hall, and his speech to distinguished public figures, relayed on plasma screens in the Abbey. The congregation greeted his speech with enthusiastic applause.

The Popemobile arrived at the front entrance to the Abbey in what seemed like little time. The Pope, with the Archbishop of Canterbury at his side, was greeted at the entrance by the Dean, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, who paused briefly to point out the 12 martyrs carved above the Abbey's entrance.

Dr Hall then welcomed Pope Bene­dict "most warmly as the first Pope to visit the Church dedicated to St Peter", which, "for 600 years as a Bene­dictine Abbey, until the English Reformation, enjoyed a close relation­ship of mutual support with the papacy".

After retiring to the Jericho Parlour to vest, during which the Abbey's choir sang, the Pope said a prayer, before being introduced to leaders of the Churches of the British Isles, who included the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd John Christie, and the President of the Methodist Council, the Revd Alison Tomlin.

The collegiate procession, together with the Pope and Archbishop of Can­ter­bury, moved to places in the Abbey quire and sacrarium as the hymn "Christ is made the sure foun­da­tion" was sung.

Dr Williams wel­comed the Pope "on behalf of all Christian communities of Great Britain". Pope Benedict thanked Dr Williams for his welcome and said that "this noble edifice evokes Eng­land's long history, so deeply marked by the preaching of the gospel and the Christian culture to which it gave birth".

The Archbishop then introduced the Peace, and warmly embraced the Pon­tiff. The cardinals and bishops seated to each side followed suit, with hearty handshakes.

Dr Williams and the Pope vener­ated the St Augustine Gospels, after which they each gave short addresses. The Pope said that the historic occa­sion was a reminder "that what we share in Christ is greater than what continues to divide us", and that there is a con­tinual challenge "to present the risen Lord as the deepest response to the ques­tions of our time".

The Pontiff's gentle delivery was not entirely in keeping with his ro­bust language: "It is the word of God pre­cisely because it is the true word. It leads us into obedience that must be free of intellectual compromise and ac­com­modation to the spirit of this age."

Dr Williams, in his address, spoke of the way "in our society we can see the dehumanising effects of losing St Benedict's vision", such as when people devote themselves to work at the ex­pense of relationship, and the worth­lessness felt by many who had been made unemployed.

A seminal moment was when the Pope and Archbishop moved to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor to offer prayers. The Archbishop prayed for blessing on "all who witness to the gospel's call in the public life of our countries"; the Pope prayed that God would "heal the divisions among Christians".

The congregation then stood to sing "All my hope on God is founded". The blessing was spoken simultan­eously by the Pope and Dr Williams. As the Pope, helped by one of his aides, navigated the steps down out of the sacrarium, the congre­gation broke into spontaneous applause.

Ed Thornton

STANDING on sunny Lambeth Bridge on Friday, waiting for the Pope to emerge from Lambeth Palace and his meeting with the bishops and arch­bishops of the Church of England, I found myself next to Sister Veronica, a little nun from Cornwall with sky-blue eyes and a wide smile, who was waving a big papal flag.

Everyone loved her: people kept coming over to ask if they could take her picture, for which she happily stood, and the policemen lining the bar­ri­cades also stepped forward every now and then to ask if she was OK. Sister Veronica, who has worked with young people for many years, had been on the bridge for five hours and was determined not to miss the Pope as he went by on his way to Westminster.

Behind us, Big Ben struck five. Seven minutes later, the Pope­mobile swung on to the far end of Lam­beth Bridge looking exactly as someone described it on Twitter a few days ago: "a bulletproof ice-cream van". It was surrounded by fridge-shaped men in well-cut dark suits who furi­ously eyeballed faces in the crowd as they walked the Popemobile along.

Above them, the Pope was im­prisoned inside a greeny-blue bubble, sitting on a white plastic throne and waving in an old-man kind of way to the crowds on either side. So thick is the Popemobile's armoured glass that he looked more like a hologram than the real thing, but one glance at the Vatican's grim security detail told you this was the one and only.

Sister Veronica hopped up on to a granite ledge behind me to get a better view, and as the Popemobile drew level with me on the crown of the bridge, I gained eye contact for the splittest of seconds with Joseph Ratzinger as his pale-blue eyes passed over me. I hope he did the same for Sister Veronica, who was much more deserving of his attention.

The streets were stiff with crowds trying to slipstream behind the holy vehicle, but I found a back way, grabbed a coffee as I walked, and came out of Great Smith Street, right in front of the west door of Westminster Abbey.

Coming towards me through the crowd was a highly pumped-up black preacher of the ranting school, blast­ing a way through the tightly packed people by the sheer force of his shouted sermon. He was wearing a glossy barbecue apron printed with a Bible text. I tried to talk to him, but he ignored me and launched tunelessly into the Evangelical chorus "I love my Jesus, my Jesus loves me."

The Popemobile pulled up outside the Abbey, and a forest of arms sprouted from the crowd, each hand holding a camera, wildly pointed and clicked in search of a Pope shot, how­ever blurred. Once he was inside the Abbey, and evening prayer had started, I looked around at the banners jostling for attention.

There was a huge sign reading "Wel­come Holy Father", and another with the less snappy, but still papal-friendly, "On this rock I will build my Church".

More unpredictable was "We [heart] you Papa more than beans on toast" held aloft by Niamh, an RC youth worker from North London. She was also wearing yellow-and-white papal wellington boots she had specially made, which I'm sure the Pope might like to swap for his red slippers.

Right next to "Welcome Holy Father" was a black and white banner that sternly demanded, "No Popery". Surrounding it was an armada of smal­ler banners made by old-school Protest­ants, who were there in force. A couple of burly men from their team, sporting "Exalt Christ not the Pope" T-shirts, told me they were from Zion Bapt­ist in Glasgow, a Calvinistic church that had picketed Marilyn Man­son in the past, and had followed the Pope down to London for this protest.

There were times in the next hour when I thought fighting might break out as Catholic and Protestant ban­ners jockeyed for position in front of the TV cameras.

I talked to a Roman Catholic woman carry­ing a huge picture of Benedict XVI and she was angry and upset. Her lovely day out with Papa Benny was being spoiled. "There are stupid people here shouting out that the Pope is a paedo­phile," she told me.

The streets of London have never sounded more theological. I passed one man explaining the teaching of St Irenaeus of Lyons to a small group of listeners. And, further along, while rough-looking men hawked Pope badges to passers-by ("Only a quid, mate"), a tall Catholic was in passion­ate conversation with a short Protest­ant about Matthew 16, each man jabbing a finger at the other.

And all the while, as dusk fell, the Abbey stood huge, silent, and preg­nant with the people, priests, bishops, arch­bishops, cardinals, the Pope, and the hard men of Vatican security inside. I was following the service on Twitter and was able to read the Pope's ad­dress. With typical Ratzinger pugnac­ity he asserted his primacy as the successor of St Peter and reminded his listeners that the ancient building once had close links to Rome.

We waited. It grew dark. The ban­ners manoeuvred. The arguments raged. Grown men in plastic aprons shouted themselves hoarse for the Lord.

Then the west doors swung open and the Abbey bells rang out, like the most joyous wedding, and the crowd went up in a rapture. In fact, it felt so like a wedding that I half expected to see that odd couple, Rowan Williams and Joe Ratzinger, walk out hand in hand surrounded by clergy brides­maids in lacy frocks . . . but that's another universe.

In short order, the Pope entered a dark car and his motorcade swept from the Abbey. I couldn't help noticing that the last vehicle was an ambulance. It was a Roman triumph, with mortality whispering in the ear.

Simon Jenkins

AFTER all the predictions of poor attendance, protests, lack of interest, and the like, the reality turned out to be very different. The visit of Pope Benedict to Birmingham was judged to be a success, leaving doubters mollified, critics neutered, and the faithful thoroughly invigor­ated.

The Pope was greeted warmly by 56,000 pilgrims at Cofton Park, where he celebrated mass and proclaimed the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Many in the crowd had undertaken what amounted to an all-night vigil, travelling long dis­tances and braving the chilly autumn winds and rain.

They were motivated by an ardour to show the positive face of Roman Catholic Britain, against a recent background of scandals and derision.

Typical of their number was 62-year-old Louisa Snuggs, a native of Goa, India, now living in Coventry, who, despite being a diabetic and break­­ing her arm mid-week, never­theless insisted on being present. "Our Holy Father has endured so much scorn from atheists, the very least I can do is to show solidarity with him by my prayers and presence."

Similar sentiments were voiced by another adoptive Coventrian, Oliver Don, president of the Midlands Sri Lankan Association, who told BBC Radio: "It is my Christian duty to sup­port the Pope, especially at this time of crisis."

Talk of adversity on the day brought a sharp retort from James Short of Stafford. "I think of the brave Catholic martyrs of England and Wales, who risked their lives to preserve the very faith that brings Pope Benedict here. It is primarily to honour their memory that I am here in support of the Holy Father and to celebrate Newman."

Weather conditions improved with the Pope's arrival at 9.30 a.m. The reception he was given was one of restrained but heartfelt appreciation. It was, perhaps, a contrast to the rap­turous adulation given to Pope John Paul on his 1982 visit: there were no big displays of emotional outpouring, and fewer trips in the Popemobile. But the subdued applause was gratefully acknowledged by a smiling Pontiff.

As for the threatened protesters, barely 50 could be counted some way from the park, their anger dampened by the weather.

Mass and the beatification proved to be a profound spiritual experience for those present. Benedict was keen to focus on Newman, whose theology he has devoted a lifetime to pursuing. In his own quiet fashion, the Pope expressed his honour at being able to beatify one whose life and works had so enthralled him.

In his homily, Benedict expressed the wish that Newman be "a role model for all Christians everywhere", and urged the faithful to "emulate Newman's exemplary fidelity and perseverance during difficult times". The Pope further urged Catholics to draw a lesson from Newman by harnessing education as a means of "enlightening the mind, while countering the challenges of secular materialism that have so corrupted Western society".

Significantly, Pope Benedict ap­peared to be very conscious of the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He spoke of his time living under the Nazis, and praised the courage and steadfastness of RAF fighter pilots. He paid special tribute to the people of Coventry who had endured the blitzes of 1940 and 1941.

As the papal cavalcade left after the two-hour service, the loud cheering echoing around Cofton Park was for a pope who had won the respect of people for his thoughtful words and considered judgement. Notwith­standing the problems within the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict had managed to reply on his own terms, faced down hostile voices, maintained dignity, and, throughout it all, kept the primary focus on Newman's beatification and legacy.

Benedict's style is his own; he did not seek to copy his gregarious predecessor. He was consistent and dignified, and those traits appeared to be appreciated by a British public that seemed to thaw to the Pope during the visit.

Moreover, through his speeches in London and Scotland, Benedict set out his challenge to secularism, something that British political society must accommodate. He also engaged positively with the Church of England, and made various courteous overtures to mainstream British society.

Throughout his short time here, Pope Benedict pushed for the retention of Christianity at the heart of society. Whether those attempts prove successful, time will tell.

Vincent McKee

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