Benedict XVI's Visit to the United Kingdom is turning out to be truly unprecedented. A positive and important journey which – after the meeting with Elizabeth ii, those with the Scottish Catholics and then with the representatives of different religions – has enabled the Pope to address the Anglicans, the civil authorities and the Catholic Church of the whole country at the three meetings held in the heart of London.
It is a Visit whose historic character has been grasped by the media, especially in the U.K., whereas elsewhere similar attention has not been paid to these days, preferring to lag behind, publishing negligible news of the Visit.
If one sought a symbolic image to sum up the London events one could find it in the conclusion of the Discourse in Westminster Hall, which will certainly live on as one of the greatest in the Pontificate.
Here, raising his gaze to the ceiling of the Hall and the winged figures carved of wood, Pope Benedict recalled the presence of angels in the oldest Parliament in the world. Perhaps he was thinking of the topic dear to Judaism and to Christianity in antiquity, of angels that watch over nations.
Before an immense assembly, the Pontiff, attentive and cordial – saying that he was indeed conscious of the privilege of speaking to the entire British people, thanks to an invitation without precedent – paid homage to the parliamentary institutions of the country and to its long tradition, so influential in a large part of the world. Over time, he said, moderation, balance and stability have built a pluralist democracy whose structural foundations at the service of the dignity of every person have much in common with Catholic social doctrine.
In his Address to the civil authorities – in the very place where the sentence rang out that condemned Thomas More, a servant of the King who chose to serve God first – Benedict XVI addressed the challenge to democracy represented by its ethical foundations. And mentioning as examples the global financial crisis and the abolition of the Slave Trade – an achievement of which the British Nation may be justly proud – the Pope reaffirmed that the basis of all civil discourse must be sought precisely in sound moral principles that are accessible to reason.
Once again, therefore, the Pontiff's proposal focused on the importance of seeking harmony between religion and reason, which do not have to be absolutized but stand in need of each other.
Hence his concern about the gradual marginalization of the Christian tradition and insistence on the themes of development and environmental protection, common ground in the fruitful collaboration between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.
Almost symbolically, the Visit to Parliament ended with two very important events for the development of relations and friendship between Catholics and Anglicans, 50 years after John XXIII's historic Audience with Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher: the Meeting in Lambeth Palace and the solemn ecumenical Evening Prayer Service.
It was celebrated in Westminster Abbey, with the Pope and Archbishop Rowan Williams together venerating Edward the Confessor, in the splendour of the Liturgy and of a lively musical tradition, that also characterized the Eucharistic Celebration in Westminister Cathedral.
To the Catholics Benedict XVI spoke once again of the suffering caused by the criminal abuse of children by members of the clergy. He hoped that everyone would support the victims and declaring his trust in the Church's purification and renewal, because God watches over her just as he watches over the whole of humanity, as ably expressed by the artists in their portrayal of the angels that the Pope pointed to.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 28, 2020
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