Saturday, April 2, 2011

Venerable John Paul II and the English Reformation

Venerable John Paul II died on April 2, 2005 and he will be beatified on May 1, 2011 in Rome. Starting today, I am beginning a series of posts referencing Pope John Paul's homilies and speeches from his visit to England, Scotland, and Wales in 1982, the beatification of Eighty-five Martyrs of England and Wales, and comments on Blessed John Henry Newman and St. Thomas More.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Scotland and England in September last year, the BBC and other media set up comparisons and contrasts between the visits and the popes. John Paul was younger, flashier, more popular, etc while Benedict is older, more scholarly, with the enforcer reputation, etc . . . When John Paul visited in 1982, he traveled throughout England, Scotland, and Wales more extensively: he followed a theme of celebrating the Seven Sacraments (Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Anointing, Marriage, and Holy Orders) and ecumenical meetings with the Church of England and other Christian denominations.

His first celebration was of Baptism at the Cathedral of Westminster, during which he paid tribute to the architecture of the church building, and mentioned not only St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, but also Bishop Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic during the 18th century:


Friday, 28 May 1982

“Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you!”

My brothers and sisters,

1. With heartfelt gratitude and love I thank our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that he has given me the grace of coming among you today. Today, for the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil. I am deeply moved at this thought. This fair land, once a distant outpost of the pagan world, has become, through the preaching of the Gospel, a beloved and gifted portion of Christ’s vineyard.

Yours is a tradition embedded in the history of Christian civilization. The roll of your saints and of your great men and women, your treasures of literature and music, your cathedrals and colleges, your rich heritage of parish life speak of a tradition of faith. And it is to the faith of your fathers - living still - that I wish to pay tribute by my visit. . . .

This fine church where we meet is a symbol of the faith and energy of the English Catholic community in modern times. Its architecture is unusual for this country: it evokes memories of other parts of the Christian world, reminding us of our universality. Tomorrow I shall be welcomed in the much older cathedral of Canterbury, where Saint Augustine, sent by my predecessor Saint Gregory, first built a little church whose foundations remain. There indeed everything speaks of ancient common traditions, which, in this modern age, we are ready to stress together.

I, too, want to speak in this way - to mourn the long estrangement between Christians, to hear gladly our blessed Lord’s prayer and command that we should be completely one, to thank him for that inspiration of the Holy Spirit which has filled us with a longing to leave behind our divisions and aspire to a common witness to our Lord and Saviour. My deep desire, my ardent hope and prayer is that my visit may serve the cause of Christian unity. . . .

John Fisher, the Cambridge scholar of Renaissance learning, became Bishop of Rochester. He is an example to all Bishops in his loyalty to the faith and in his devoted attention to the people of his diocese, especially the poor and the sick. Thomas More was a model layman living the Gospel to the full. He was a fine scholar and an ornament to his profession, a loving husband and father, humble in prosperity, courageous in adversity, humorous and godly. Together they served God and their country - Bishop and layman. Together they died, victims of an unhappy age. Today we have the grace, all of us, to proclaim their greatness and to thank God for giving such men to England.

In this England of fair and generous minds, no one will begrudge the Catholic community pride in its own history. So I speak last of another Christian name, less famous but no less deserving honour. Bishop Richard Challoner guided the Catholics of this London district in the eighteenth century, at what seemed the lowest point of their fortunes. They were few. It seemed they might well not survive. Yet Bishop Challoner bravely raised his voice to prophesy a better future for his people.

And now, two centuries later, I am privileged to stand here and to speak to you, in no triumphal spirit, but as a friend, grateful for your kind welcome and full of love for all of you.

Bishop Challoner’s courage may remind all of us where the seeds of courage lie, where the confidence of renewal comes from. It is through water and the Holy Spirit that a New People is born, whatever the darkness of the time.


  1. Together they died, victims of an unhappy age.

    With all due respect to the late Pope John Paul II, somehow I doubt this is how his successor would describe St. Thomas's and St. John's martyrdoms.

  2. And they really did not "die together"!

  3. That too, Stephanie. I look forward to your posts in this series.