Edinburgh (AsiaNews) – Great Britain and the two billion people in the Commonwealth and all English-speaking nations in the world should not allow the “Christian foundation that underpins” their freedom and culture to be obscured by “more aggressive forms of secularism” that “no longer value or even tolerate” it for “the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society.”
On his arrival in Edinburgh, first stop of his visit to Great Britain, Benedict XVI, in addressing the Queen Elizabeth, referred to one of the reasons, perhaps the most important, for his visit. The Queen also spoke about the importance of Christianity and religions in the cultures of the English-speaking world as well as about peace and reconciliation in the world.
The first state visit to the United Kingdom (John Paul II’s 1982 visit was pastoral in nature) by a Roman Pontiff since King Henry VIII’s broke away in the 16th century promises to be difficult. Much has been said about the trip, set to end on Sunday, with views and opinions ranging from indifference to stormy controversy.
For British Prime Minister David Cameron, “These will be a very special four days not just for our six million Catholics but for many people of faith right across Britain, and millions more watching around the world.”
Special, they will be. In fact, protests and various acts of open hostility are expected or already underway. In the Scottish capital, Presbyterians and secularist groups announced that they would march against the Pontiff because of his views on birth control, gay rights and abortion. Police though do not expect a large turnout of demonstrators; in any event, nothing like the number of people that should come out to celebrate the visit.
What anti-Catholic groups will do is focus on the issue of pedophile priests, in a campaign already underway that includes TV reports, newspaper articles (The Guardian published a particularly venomous front-page attack yesterday) and a book The case against the pope, released to coincide with the visit.
The Pope confronted the issue on the plane taking him to Edinburgh in the traditional press conference with journalists accompanying him.
The “revelations” about sexual abuse “have been a shock for me, not only a great sadness,” the Pope said, because “It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible. [. . .] It is a great sadness, a sadness that even the authority of the Church has not been sufficiently vigilant and not fast or decided enough in taking the necessary measures.”
In his address at Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, he did not mention any of this. The sound of the bagpipes met him at the royal palace after Prince Philip officially welcomed him at Edinburgh airport in the presence of the Scottish Guard in full regalia.
“The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the ‘Holy Cross’ and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike.”
“From saints of past centuries to more modern heroes such as William Wilberforce or David Livingstone who worked to abolish the slave trade, Florence Nightingale, who cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War and Cardinal Newman whom the Pope will beatify on the last day of this trip, Pope Benedict underlined the Christian values that inspired their actions. Touching on the tragedy of the Second World War, he recalled the courage of so many Christian pastors and religious who stood up to brutalities of the Nazi regime and paid with their lives
“We find many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history. Even in comparatively recent times, due to figures like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, Britain intervened directly to stop the international slave trade. Inspired by faith, women like Florence Nightingale served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare that were subsequently copied everywhere. John Henry Newman, whose beatification I will celebrate shortly, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands.”
“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 Pope also mentioned the role Great Britain played after World War 2 in setting up the United Nations, ushering “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,” and gave “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
“Today,” he said in concluding his address, “the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.”