A Church which sought to be attractive in the eyes of the world would be on the wrong track because her duty is to make Christ's light shine out. Christians of the East call it “joyful” ( phòs hilaròn) in Evening Prayer and John Henry Newman was aware of it and described it as a “kindly” light, imploring it to guide him.
In this light – as in fact the Pope predicted to journalists on the flight to Scotland – Benedict XVI's British Visit was a great success. This was recognized and reported by many of the media, especially in the United Kingdom; but that is not all, getting the better of the prejudicial prognosis that predicted difficult days, as well as of the distortion of information that also aimed at dimming the Visit's importance.
The about-turn of people's expectations which was evident in the welcome and attention of those who saw and listened to the Pontiff in these days should be specifically attributed to the way Benedict XVI came across with simplicity and openness on this Visit.
It was immediately clear in his face and in his words, which followed in the wake of that tradition of gentle scholarship born in the Middle Ages and that extends to Newman.
It was thanks to the broadmindedness of the media in this great country – marked by what, today, has become a multi-ethnic society – in relaying his gestures and words on a perfectly organized Journey, that multitudes were able see Pope Benedict speaking to elderly people and conversing with them, “as a brother above all”. They saw him gently caressing children – just as on his last day, on leaving the Nunciature, he caressed a blind child in the arms of his mother who, moved to tears, could not stop thanking him – and adoring the Blessed Sacrament in the impressive silence of the 80,000 young people who had gathered for the Vigil a few hours before Cardinal Newman's beatification.
Indeed the tenderness Benedict XVI shows to the little and the weak explains his powerful words – renewed and repeated – in the face of the crimes of the abuse of minors by members of the clergy and his meeting with some of the victims and with a group that works for the protection of children.
The British Episcopate, which collaborates with the civil authorities, is exemplary in this regard, in line with the age-old tradition of the care and education of young people which, in the past, was undeniably to the credit of the Catholic Church and her many institutions in every part of the world.
In brief, this was a historic journey. It was marked by the official and cordial Visit to Elizabeth ii, a universally esteemed Sovereign, by the solemn meeting with the civil authorities in Westminster Hall (where the Pope paid tribute to the institution of the British Parliament), and by conversations with several political leaders and with Prime Minister David Cameron, who in his farewell address emphasized the positive contribution of religion to the public debate.
At the end of a State Visit which – also because of the friendship with Archbishop Rowan Williams – proved very important for the development of relations with the Anglicans, with representatives of other Christian denominations and with other religions. And above all Benedict XVI made the Visit shine with the kindly light that leads every human person, just as it led Newman.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 28, 2020
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