Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Five Years Ago Today: Pope Benedict XVI in Scotland

Pope Benedict XVI began his official and pastoral visit to Scotland and England at Holyrood House in Edinburgh, Scotland with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, who welcomed him. The latter met him at the airport and the Queen officially addressed him:

Your Holiness,

I am delighted to welcome you to the United Kingdom, and particularly to Scotland, on your first visit as Pope. I recall with great pleasure the memorable pastoral visit of the late Pope John Paul II to this country in 1982. I also have vivid memories of my four visits to the Vatican, and of meeting some of your predecessors on other occasions. I am most grateful to them for receiving, over the years, a number of members of my family with such warm hospitality.

Much has changed in the world during the nearly thirty years since Pope John Paul’s visit. In this country, we deeply appreciate the involvement of the Holy See in the dramatic improvement in the situation in Northern Ireland. Elsewhere the fall of totalitarian regimes across central and eastern Europe has allowed greater freedom for hundreds of millions of people. The Holy See continues to have an important role in international issues, in support of peace and development and in addressing common problems like poverty and climate change. . . .

I know that reconciliation was a central theme in the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, for whom you will be holding a Mass of Beatification on Sunday. A man who struggled with doubt and uncertainty, his contribution to the understanding of Christianity continues to influence many. I am pleased that your visit will also provide an opportunity to deepen the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the established Church of England and the Church of Scotland.

Your Holiness, in recent times you have said that ‘religions can never become vehicles of hatred, that never by invoking the name of God can evil and violence be justified’. Today, in this country, we stand united in that conviction. We hold that freedom to worship is at the core of our tolerant and democratic society.

On behalf of the people of the United Kingdom I wish you a most fruitful and memorable visit.

Pope Benedict responded and introduced a theme he alluded to again during the visit: Britain's role in defeating Hitler and Nazi Germany, while echoing remarks the Queen made about peace in Northern Ireland:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny" (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

Sixty-five years ago, Britain played an essential role in forging the post-war international consensus which favoured the establishment of the United Nations and ushered in a hitherto unknown period of peace and prosperity in Europe. In more recent years, the international community has followed closely events in Northern Ireland which have led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Your Majesty’s Government and the Government of Ireland, together with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland, have helped give birth to a peaceful resolution of the conflict there. I encourage everyone involved to continue to walk courageously together on the path marked out for them towards a just and lasting peace.

The organizers of the Papal visit created a booklet to provide historical background and information about the Catholic Church, acknowledging that "there are many gaps in public knowledge in these matters". One of the questions asked and answered in the booklet was "Why is the Pope meeting the Queen?"--

Her Majesty is the official host of the Papal Visit. She will greet Pope Benedict XVI as an honoured guest and welcome him to Britain formally. . . .

The Queen paid a memorable State Visit to the Vatican thirty years ago and a less formal visit in the Millennium Year, to mark the 20th anniversary of the earlier one. Those previous meetings symbolised reconciliation in both historical and religious terms; so this Visit of the Pope to the UK will too. They were about learning from history while not being bound by it. When Queen and Pope mention their common historical inheritance, as they are likely to do in their formal greetings, they are referring to the way in which the traditions which they embody have been closely entwined for a thousand years or more. Sadly, not always so harmoniously:

Henry VIII’s breach with Rome and events in succeeding reigns caused painful consequences for thousands and led to a bitterness that affected several centuries.

It is important to recall that Queen Elizabeth II is also Queen of Scots, and it will be in Edinburgh that she welcomes Pope Benedict to her United Kingdom. Henry VIII removed the English national church from papal jurisdiction and placed it under the authority of the monarch, later termed the “Supreme Governor.” Things went very differently in Scotland.

The Presbyterian, or Reformed, Church of Scotland insisted on complete freedom from royal control. The Pope will certainly appreciate the distinction. In Scotland the role of the monarch is not to govern the Church, but to protect its privileges. That is why she is called its”Protector”. She is not the Church’s head - the Church of Scotland says that is Jesus Christ alone.

After exchanging greetings and gifts with Queen Elizabeth, Pope Benedict went on to the St. Ninian's Day Parade in Edinburgh and then traveled to Glasgow for Mass at Bellahouston Park.

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