The Holy See and the United Kingdom
· Secretary of State on the Centenary of diplomatic relations ·
On 3 December, the Holy See celebrated its centenary anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Great Britain. On that occasion, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, celebrated Mass at Rome's Basilica of St Paul's Outside-the-Walls. The following is the text of his homily.
Dear Father Abbot,
Distinguished Representatives of Her Majesty’s Government,
Dear members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are in a time of waiting: together with Mary, Mother of the Church, we await the birth of her Son, the One for whom all peoples in all times were waiting. While many experience fear and uncertainty, for people of faith this waiting is a time of new hope and expectation, longing to celebrate anew the transforming power of Christ in the lives of his people.
In this spirit of Advent, a time of longing and joy, the Holy See and Great Britain recall with deep gratitude the fruits of a relationship that has matured with quiet patience. We have grown towards full formal relations, which matured just three decades ago, and now look forward to a shared future, seeking together the common good. We offer today thanksgiving for the renewed relationship of trust and respect between the Holy See and the British Crown, fostered across the length of a century.
In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah looks ahead to the day when the Lord God will reveal what is hidden, when the veil of tears and confusion that covered our eyes will be lifted. Then we shall see the One for whom we longed; we shall perceive the God whose essence was hidden from our eyes, but before whom we now stand in awe and thanksgiving. That day came for the shepherds and the wise men, and for all people of good will, when the Virgin gave birth to the Emmanuel – God-with-us – and they saw him in the flesh. This prophecy will be fulfilled for us when we see him as he really is, on the last day. But already here and now, we look ahead for that day when the light of God’s Kingdom will dispel all fear and suffering. And in that here and now, responding to the birth of the Prince of Peace, we seek to lessen tensions, and supplant the violence of our world with the gift of his peace.
In today’s Gospel, Saint Matthew presents us the image of Jesus taking the meagre offering of seven loaves and a few fish, to bless and multiply them and feed the crowd hungry for food, but hungry also for life, truth, beauty and goodness. Anticipating the Eucharist, the Lord gives the multitude a foretaste of Heaven, healing those people – his people – from their infirmities, from their sins and waywardness, calling them to a new life in his Kingdom.
“Christ continues to send his disciples into the world in order to proclaim the coming of his Kingdom and to bring his peace into the world”: with these words Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful gathered in Glasgow, that the Lord’s power is still at work amongst us, made tangible through the actions of his disciples. We can identify those actions in the works of justice, peace and reconciliation – including corporal works of mercy – in which the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and other Christian communities have worked together with the British Authorities.
These works might include protecting the innocent and the weak in two World Wars and in more recent conflicts throughout the world; seeking to promote dialogue and reconciliation in order to bring about lasting peace among peoples. The British Government and the Holy See have cooperated in these efforts for justice and peace, and we naturally wish to strengthen and extend this cooperation for the good of all, be it in situations of disaster, from famine in Africa to tidal waves in Asia, or for the poor in our home communities and for those on the periphery of society – the unborn in the womb, the sick and the elderly, the abused and victims of human trafficking – those who cannot fend for themselves. In all these endeavours, our resolve to work for justice and peace is rooted always in the inalienable dignity of the human person.
In everything, we are sustained and nourished by the Lord our Shepherd, by God who made us, whose flock we are. As the Psalmist reminds us, God gives us everything: fresh and green pastures, restful waters, a banquet of rich food even as our foes look on from without, uncomprehending. He comforts us, heals us, anoints our wounds, prepares a home for us, a kingdom, a land far beyond what we can imagine. He never, ever abandons his people. Even in the horror of the wars, which the world experienced in the twentieth century, in the destruction of churches and the persecution inflicted by heartless regimes that tried to hide from God. Not in life, nor in death, shall we be abandoned by God, if we listen, believe, trust and love.
The Lord binds us up, healing our ills and forgiving past misunderstandings; by his grace relationships are restored. It is in this context of grace and God’s power to restore relationships that we celebrate the centenary of the renewal of relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom, and give thanks for our journey together over these past hundred years. I am therefore pleased to salute Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Nigel Baker, for bringing us together this evening. At the same time, I welcome the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini. In their persons, I also acknowledge, with deep gratitude, their predecessors and their efforts to build and maintain the relations that we enjoy today.
We give thanks for this restored trust, as we strive to share a life anchored in Christian values of moral goodness. We give thanks for the distance we have walked together in seeking to re-establish unity of faith and praxis that was our shared treasure for nearly a thousand years. We must acknowledge here the very significant work of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, for the Holy See, and the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, as well as dialogues sustained between the Apostolic See and numerous other Christian communities. Notwithstanding this valuable work, some of the consequences of our centuries-old wounds are still with us. As Pope Saint John Paul II said, on the first Papal visit to Great Britain in 1982: “the sin of disunity among Christians, which has been with us for centuries, weighs heavily upon the Church.” Keen to ease that burden, and to grow together in love, we remain firmly resolved to continue on the path to Christian unity.
As we celebrate this centenary, we also recognise, that we have been sustained by the faith and perseverance of so many before us. When Saint Augustine of Canterbury arrived from Rome over fourteen centuries ago, he found the Gospel of Christ had already taken root in Britain. From that time on, the Christian message has prospered in every age, even to our own, thanks to the zeal and courage of missionaries and ministers of the Gospel. The need to hear and proclaim that message never diminishes, indeed our own age hungers for the consolation of God’s love, and thirsts for his truth.
As Pope Benedict XVI affirmed in his homily in Westminster Cathedral in 2010: “How much we need, in the Church and in society, witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendour of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ!”. When Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal Newman, later in his visit to Britain, he reminded us how Blessed John Henry, after his conversion, continued to explore, together with his former colleagues, questions on which they differed, always “driven by a deep longing for unity in faith.” Surely this is what characterizes our relationship over these one hundred years!
Freshest in our minds is the personal visit paid by Her Majesty the Queen, just this year, to Pope Francis in the Vatican. It was for all a sign of sincere friendship, and a firm indication of the permanent desire to foster, in a time of great turmoil around us, a path of unity and peace. May God bless His Holiness Pope Francis; may he bless Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and may the divine assistance guide us together in mutual support and cooperation on the journey to God’s Kingdom.
As Pope Francis stated in Evangelii Gaudium: “true Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history.” We are here to celebrate that history, and confirm our Christian hope as we look to the future. Amen.
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