Plans for Pope Benedict’s forthcoming visit were outlined at a press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 6th July, given by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Lord Patten of Barnes, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Papal Visit.
Lord Patten reiterated the fact that this will be the first state visit by a Pope to the UK. While the Church is paying for the pastoral events, the government will be financing the official parts of the visit. Lord Patten said: “This will be a very important occasion as the Holy Father is the head of a church with 1.15 billion people, representing 17.5% of the world’s population.” He said that 11% of people in the UK are Catholic.
The British government is supporting the visit for many reasons. Lord Patten explained. In particular he said the UK government works in partnership with the Catholic Church in aid, health and eduction projects overseas, and would be discussing this with the Pope and his representatives. At home, he said, faith groups make a major contribution to building community and education and welfare projects.
Lord Patten said: “We are determined in government to do all we can to make the visit a success.. and enhance the reputation of the UK around the world.”
Archbishop Nichols said: “Last Friday, escaping the stifling heat and chaotic traffic of Rome, I went in to see Pope Benedict who didn’t hesitate to say he was looking forward to getting to the Papal summer residence in the hills outside the city. But with great enthusiasm, he also said how much he was looking forward to coming to the UK in September.
“His visit will be historic and unique: the first time ever that the Pope has come to the UK on a state visit. He will come as the guest of Her Majesty the Queen and the Government. It is she who will welcome him, at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh on Thursday, September 16, in an opening ceremony which will be watched by the world and set the tone for the entire Papal visit.
“Pope Benedict has been invited on this state visit by the Queen and her Government precisely so he can speak to everyone who lives in the UK. He will, of course, speak to Catholics, but also to other Christians, to people of other faiths and no faith, to school children, to political and civic leaders. He is coming here because he has a message that is relevant to our lives and times, because he wants to discuss important moral and social issues in our joint search for what is best for all of us.
“He will stand in the iconic places of our history: in Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury; in Westminster Hall, in the place where the Lord Chancellor of England, Thomas More, was condemned to death for his faith; in Westminster Abbey where he will pray at the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor, King of England.
“What will he say? Pope Benedict speaks from the heart of the Christian faith which has so shaped our way of life for almost 2,000 years. He will invite us to look again at that treasure house of wisdom and beauty. He will say that faith in God is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be discovered afresh. Some today, and some who make the most noise, want to see faith in God locked in a box and hidden away. But faith in God, as I see it, is a great gift, helping us to be more fully ourselves.
“Faith helps us to be more passionately concerned for justice and fairness, to take up our social responsibility and help those in need. It teaches the importance of putting others first. It shapes expectations about right and wrong and guides us in making moral choices. It enlarges our world, opening up a sense that beyond difference there is a fundamental unity of all humanity. That is what we strive to do and what we hope to become.
“Of course not all Catholics or believers live like that – but countless thousands do, unsung heroes of kindness, compassion and forgiveness. One hero will be celebrated during this Papal visit. He is Cardinal John Henry Newman who will be declared ‘Blessed’ by the Pope, in Birmingham on Sunday, September 19. He will be held up as an example of Christian living for the entire Church throughout the world. This is the first time ever such a ceremony has taken place in this land. John Henry Newman is the first English Catholic, apart from those who were martyred for their faith, to be declared ‘Blessed’ for almost 500 years.
“Who was he? This hero of faith was a scholar, a poet, a great writer and speaker, born in 1801 of an Anglican family and died in 1890 as a Catholic priest and Cardinal. The people of Birmingham loved him, for he was their parish priest for more than 30 years. He visited them in their sickness, brought fuel and food for the needy, protected the workers, and received the great and the good who wanted guidance. When he died over 20,000 people lined the streets to salute his funeral cortege. And now he will be declared Blessed, one step short of being made a Saint for all time.
“Pope Benedict has a real soft spot for Cardinal Newman, for Pope Benedict himself is a gentle and loving proponent of this same faith. His visit will be full of stunning images, inspiring words and actions. I thank Her Majesty the Queen for this invitation and I thank Her Majesty’s Government for their lead in organising this Visit. It is going to be a historic and great occasion. I hope it will be enjoyed by all