· Archbishop of Westminster on the Papal Visit to the UK ·
The Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom is, without doubt, uniquely historical. The invitation for the Visit has been extended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and it is she who will greet the Holy Father on his arrival on 16 September 2010. This Visit, therefore, marks a new phase in the long and complex history of the relationship between the monarchs of this land and the Papacy.
Pontiff and Queen share some profound concerns: about the well-being of people around the world, about the role of Christian values and teaching, about the importance of stable institutions for the well-being of society. I am sure they will have much to reflect on in their time together.
After this opening ceremony of welcome, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Holy Father then celebrates Mass in Glasgow before travelling to London and to the residence of the Apostolic Nunciature.
The second day of his Visit is dedicated to reaching out to many different facets of society. It begins with an event celebrating Catholic education and the part it plays in the education service of this country. The Holy Father will be able to address every school in the land, by means of an internet connection, and invite children everywhere to follow the events of his Visit and to support him with their prayers.
St Mary's University College, Twickenham, where this event is taking place, is also a training site for the forthcoming Olympic Games in 2012. This will give an additional dimension to this event, appealing to the interest of many people in sport.
Later that morning, the Holy Father will meet with leaders of different sectors and enterprises who are themselves men and women of faith, drawn from the different faiths present in this country. He will speak with them of the importance of faith in God as shaping and inspiring effective leadership for the common good.
On the afternoon of Friday, 17 September, Pope Benedict will visit Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then go to Westminster Hall, the great historic hall in the seat of power in London. There he will address the political, civil, diplomatic and enterprise leadership of the United Kingdom. Westminster Hall is the place in which St Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535 for his adherence to the Catholic faith. The event will be full of historic and contemporary resonance.
This day will come to a close in Westminster Abbey, with the recitation of Evening Prayer in company with all the diverse Christian communities of the United Kingdom. The Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury will pray together at the tomb of St Edward the Confessor, the King of England who died in 1066 and was the refounder of Westminster Abbey. He represents the deep and shared Christian roots of these lands.
The next day the Pope will celebrate Mass in Westminster Cathedral, visit a home in which the elderly and dying are cared for and lead a Visit of prayer in Hyde Park, the great open space at the heart of London.
Sunday, 19 September, sees the Holy Father go to Birmingham to celebrate Mass and the proclamation of the Venerable John Henry Newman as Blessed. This is such an important moment in this Visit. Cardinal Newman's beatification holds before the Church a scholar of great distinction, a poet of considerable merit and a parish priest who was deeply loved by all who knew him. He was a man who understood that mind and heart had to go together in the great enterprises of life, the greatest of which is the search for God and for that life-giving relationship with Him. Newman spoke and wrote eloquently of this inner personal search and of the joy it brings. He expressed the emptiness of life without God in these terms:
“If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when I look into this busy world, and see no reflection of its Creator”.
The overall hope which we entertain for this Visit may be expressed very simply. We hope that the illuminating presence and words of Pope Benedict will help many in our countries to see that faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a gift to be discovered afresh. For many in our society, faith has become a problem, something to be kept hidden or removed from the public forum. Yet the truth is very different: faith in God brings such richness and joy to human living. It is the liberation and guide for which we search, the source of inspiration and endurance, the fount of forgiveness and compassion.
The invitation to faith is, of course, deeply personal. For this reason, the motto chosen for this Papal Visit is the same motto chosen by John Henry Newman for his coat of arms as a Cardinal: “Heart speaks unto heart”.
I hope and pray that this Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict XVI will bring great blessings to this land, and to many who follow it throughout the world.
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