Saturday, September 18, 2010

This Historic Visit

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Scotland on Thursday this week to visit with Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II, Defender of the Faith (a Papal title first awarded to Henry VIII!). Her consort, Prince Philip, met the Pope at the airport—a signal honor, and she and the Pope exchanged welcoming speeches before he attended a parade with 100,000 plus supporters and 60 protesters.

He has since met the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace and has spoken to Parliament at Westminster Hall and prayed at Westminster Abbey.

These details roll trippingly off the tongue, but they are momentous considering the history preceding them. At one time in England it was illegal to own something blessed by a pope--while successive popes wrangled with English monarchs, including Mary I, over spiritual and moral authority--excommunicating Henry and Elizabeth and even calling for subjects of the latter to remove her from the throne! When Pope Pius IX announced the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, Queen Victoria bristled, "Am I the Queen of England, or I am not." It was not really a question. Queen Elizabeth II's friendly, measured welcome indicated that she is confident the papal visit does not affect her crown.

In both the meetings with the Queen and the Archbishop, Benedict has empathized not what divides Catholics and Anglicans, but what they share--faith in Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Saviour!

Thomas More was tried and unjustly convicted upon the perjury of Sir Richard Rich in Westminster Hall, and Pope Benedict mentioned More in the context of the relationship between church and state. His speech there was a very subtle and strong argument for government to pay attention to what the church can contribute to society, rather than regard it as an obstruction.

Westminster Abbey was founded as a Catholic church before the Reformation as part of a Benedictine Abbey suppressed by Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Vice-Regent. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope both refered to the history of Westminster Abbey, named for St. Peter and for centuries before the English Reformation a Benedictine monastery whose Abbot reported directly to the Pope in Rome. The Archbishop even referred to Pope John Paul II's Ut Unim Sint which called for reflection on ways in which the Pope, the successor of St. Peter, as Benedict reminded everyone at the Abbey twice last night (!), may represent unity of Christians.

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