During his general audience on Sept. 22, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his recent apostolic trip to the United Kingdom, which took place Sept. 16-19. He described his visit as a historic event that marked a new and important phase in the long and complex history of relations between the people of the United Kingdom and the Holy See.
Pope Benedict XVI recalled various events during the visit that took him from Edinburgh to Glasgow and then to London and Birmingham. He spoke about his various encounters with members of the country’s political, economic and religious establishment. The culmination of his trip, he noted, was the beatification ceremony of Cardinal John Henry Newman, whose life and writings the Holy Father has admired for many years and who has come to be appreciated by countless people far beyond the shores of his native land.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to take a moment to speak about my apostolic trip to the United Kingdom, which God allowed me to do over the past few days.
It was an official visit and, at the same time, a pilgrimage to the heart of the history and the present age of a people rich in culture and in faith, as the British people are.
It was a historic event, marking a new and important phase in the long and complex history of relations between the British people and the Holy See.
The main purpose of my visit was the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the greatest Englishmen of recent times, an outstanding theologian and Churchman. Indeed, the beatification ceremony was the climax of my apostolic trip, the theme of which was inspired by Blessed Newman’s motto on his insignia as a cardinal: “Heart Speaks to Heart.”
Land of Christian Heritage
During the four intense and beautiful days that I spent in that noble land, I had the great joy of speaking to the hearts of the people living in the United Kingdom, and they, in turn, spoke to my heart, especially through their presence and the witness of their faith.
I was able to see the extent to which the heritage of Christianity is still strong and, at the same time, active in every layer of social life. The hearts and lives of the British people are open to the reality of God, and my visit revealed numerous expressions of their religious fervor.
From the very first day of my visit to the United Kingdom and throughout my entire stay there, I was warmly welcomed everywhere by civil authorities, representatives of the various social entities, representatives of the various religious denominations, and especially by the ordinary people.
My thoughts turn particularly to the faithful members of the Catholic community, along with their pastors, who, though a minority in that country, are deeply appreciated and highly respected, committed to the joyful proclamation of Jesus Christ, and making the Lord shine forth and making themselves his voice, especially among the least of society. I renew my expression of profound gratitude to all of them for the enthusiastic welcome they gave me and for the praiseworthy diligence with which they worked for the success of my visit, the memory of which I will always cherish in my heart.
Edinburgh and Glasgow
My first meeting was in Edinburgh with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who, together with her consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, welcomed me with great courtesy in the name of all the British people. It was a very cordial meeting, characterized by a deep and mutual concern for the well-being of the people of the world and for the role of Christian values in society.
There, in Scotland’s historic capital, I was able to admire its artistic beauty, which is a testimony to a rich tradition and to its deep Christian roots. I made reference to this in my address to Her Majesty and to the civil authorities who were present, reminding them that the Christian message has become an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of those islands.
I also spoke of the role Great Britain has had and will continue to have on the international scene, mentioning the importance of the steps taken for a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland. The festive and joyful atmosphere that was created by its schoolchildren and young people made Edinburgh a joyful stage.
Later, upon arriving in Glasgow, a city embellished with enchanting parks, I presided over the first holy Mass of my trip, which took place in Bellahouston Park. It was a deeply spiritual moment of great importance for the Catholics in that country since that day, according to the liturgical calendar, was the feast of St. Ninian, the first person to evangelize Scotland.
During a liturgical assembly where people gathered together in attentive prayer and that was rendered even more solemn by its traditional melodies and captivating songs, I reminded people that it is important to evangelize the culture, especially in our time, when an insidious relativism threatens to darken the unchanging truth about the nature of man.
Meetings in London
On the second day, I began my visit to London. There, my first meeting was with the world of Catholic education, which plays an important role in the country’s educational system.
Within a genuine family atmosphere, I spoke to educators, reminding them of the importance of faith in forming mature and responsible citizens. I encouraged the many adolescents and young people who welcomed me with warmth and enthusiasm not to pursue limited goals or to be content with comfortable choices, but to aim for something greater — the pursuit of true happiness, which is to be found only in God.
In my subsequent meeting with leaders of other religions with a large representation in the United Kingdom, I pointed out the inescapable need for sincere dialogue, which requires respect for the principle of reciprocity in order to be fully fruitful. At the same time, I indentified the quest for the sacred as a common ground for all religions, upon which to build up friendship, trust and collaboration.
My fraternal visit with the archbishop of Canterbury was an opportunity to underline our mutual commitment to bear witness to the Christian message, which unites Catholics and Anglicans. This was followed by one of the most significant moments of the apostolic trip: the meeting in the Great Hall of the British Parliament with institutional, political, diplomatic, academic and religious personalities, as well as representatives of the cultural and business world.
In this very prestigious venue, I stressed the fact that religion, for lawmakers, should not represent a problem to be resolved but a factor that makes a vital contribution to the nation’s historic progress and public debate, especially by recalling the essential importance of an ethical foundation for choices that are made in the various areas of social life.
Still amid that solemn atmosphere, I then went to Westminster Abbey. This was the first time that a successor of Peter entered that place of worship, which is a symbol of the very ancient Christian roots of the country.
Praying vespers with the various Christian communities of the United Kingdom was an important moment in the relationship between the Catholic and the Anglican communities. When we venerated together the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor while the choir sang “Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor,” we all praised God, who leads us on the path of full unity.
On Saturday morning, my meeting with the prime minister opened the way to a series of meetings with the most important representatives of the political world in Britain. That was followed by a Eucharistic celebration in Westminster Cathedral, which is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord. It was an extraordinary moment of faith and prayer — which testified to the rich and precious tradition of “Roman” and “English” liturgical music — in which various ecclesial groups took part, spiritually united to the multitude of believers in the long Christian history of that land.
I was overjoyed to meet large numbers of young people who participated in the holy Mass from outside of the cathedral. With their enthusiastic yet attentive and eager presence, they demonstrated their desire to play a role in a new period of courageous witness, effective solidarity and generous commitment to serving the Gospel.
In the apostolic nunciature, I met with some victims of abuses committed by members of the clergy and religious. It was a moment of intense emotion and prayer.
Shortly after, I also met with a group of professionals and volunteers who are responsible for protecting children and young people in church situations, a particularly important and relevant aspect of the Church’s pastoral commitment. I thanked them and encouraged them to continue their work, which is part of the Church’s long tradition of concern for the respect, education and formation of future generations.
While I was in London, I visited a home for the elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, with the valuable aid of numerous nurses and volunteers. This welcoming structure is a sign of the great concern the Church has always had for the elderly and expresses the commitment of British Catholics to respecting life, regardless of age or condition.
Blessed John Henry Newman
As I have already said, the highlight of my visit to the United Kingdom was the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, illustrious son of England.
As a way of preparation, it was preceded by a special prayer vigil that took place on Saturday evening at Hyde Park in London, in an atmosphere of deep recollection. To the multitude of faithful, especially young people, I presented the shining example of Cardinal Newman, intellectual and believer, whose spiritual message can be summed up in his witness: The path to knowledge does not mean closing in on oneself; rather, it means openness, conversion and obedience to he who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The rite of beatification took place in Birmingham on Sunday, during a solemn Eucharistic celebration, in the presence of a vast crowd from all of Great Britain and Ireland, with representatives from many other countries.
This impressive event put the spotlight once again on a scholar of great stature, a distinguished writer and poet, a wise man of God, whose thought has enlightened many minds and who still exercises an extraordinary fascination even today.
May believers and ecclesial communities throughout the United Kingdom be particularly inspired by him, so that in our day that noble land will continue to produce abundant fruits of Gospel life!
The meeting with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales as well as that of Scotland concluded a day of great celebration and intense communion of hearts for the Catholic community in Great Britain.
Message for Today
Dear brothers and sisters, during my visit to the United Kingdom, as always, it was my desire first of all to support the Catholic community, encouraging it to work tirelessly to defend the immutable moral truths which the Gospel presents, illuminates and confirms that are at the base of a truly human, just and free society.
It was also my desire to speak to the hearts of all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, excluding no one, about the true reality of man, about his deepest needs, about his ultimate destiny.
By addressing the citizens of that country, a crossroads of world culture and economy, I kept the whole Western world in mind, dialoguing with the reason of this civilization and communicating the eternal newness of the Gospel with which it is permeated.
This apostolic journey confirmed my profound conviction that the old nations of Europe possess a Christian soul that merges with the “genius” and the history of their respective peoples and the Church never ceases to work to keep this spiritual and cultural tradition alive.
Blessed John Henry Newman, whose life and whose writings are still of extraordinary relevance, merits to be known by all. May he sustain the intentions and efforts of Christians to “spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere they go, so that their lives may only be a radiance of his,” as he wrote wisely in his book Radiating Christ.