Mission Britannia. The Sun Shines in GlasgowSANDRO MAGISTER
The journey of Benedict XVI begins in Scotland. The meeting with the queen. The Mass with the people. A celebration of faith in the kingdom of the incredulous. With a prologue on the scandal of pedophilia.
ROME, September 16, 2010 - On the flight from Rome to the United Kingdom, on what has been predicted to be the most difficult journey of his pontificate, in hostile territory, Benedict XVI immediately made it clear that he does not set his course according to approval ratings:
"A Church that sought above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path."
And he immediately explained why:
"Because the Church does not work for itself, it does not work to increase its own numbers, its own power. The Church is at the service of an Other. It serves not for itself, to be a strong body, but to make accessible the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the great truths, the great powers of love and reconciliation that have appeared in him."
It is on this basis, he continued, that real ecumenism is achieved:
"If both Anglicans and Catholics see that they do not serve for themselves, but are instruments for Christ, they are no longer competitors, but are united in the effort for the truth of Christ in this world, and thus they also find themselves reciprocally in a true and fruitful ecumenism."
This was one of the five answers given by pope Joseph Ratzinger to the journalists on the flight from Rome to Edinburgh, on the morning of Thursday, September 16.
Another answer concerned the figure of John Henry Newman, who is about to be beatified: "a modern man who experienced the whole problem of modernity, a doctor of the Church for us and for all a bridge between Anglicans and Catholics."
Two others concerned the encounter with a country like the United Kingdom, with strong strains of atheism and anti-Catholicism, and possible forms of cooperation between politics and religion.
Finally, to a question on the scandal of pedophilia, the pope answered:
"First of all, I must say that these revelations have been a shock to me, a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry can be possible. At the moment of ordination, the priest, who has prepared for this moment for years, says yes to Christ, tells him to make him his voice, his mouth, his hand, and to serve with all his being so that the Good Shepherd who loves, helps, and leads to the truth may be present in the world. How a man who has done and said this can then fall into this perversion is difficult to understand. It is also a great sadness that the authority of the Church was not vigilant enough and fast enough, decisive in taking the necessary measures. Because of all of this we are in a time of penance, of humility, of renewed sincerity, as I wrote to the Irish bishops. It seems to me that we must now undertake a time of penance, a time of humility, in which to renew and relearn absolute sincerity. As for the victims, I would say that three things are important. The first interest goes to the victims: how we can make reparation, what we can do to help these persons to overcome this trauma, to recover life, and to recover trust in the message of Christ. Dedication to the victims is the first priority, with material, psychological, and spiritual help. The second problem is that of the guilty persons: the just punishment is to exclude them from any possibility of contact with young people, because we know that this is an illness in which free will does not work; where this illness is present we must therefore protect these persons from themselves and exclude them from all contact with young people. And the third point is prevention and education in the selection of candidates for the priesthood: to be so careful, as far as humanly possible, to exclude future cases. I would also like at this moment to thank the British episcopate for its attention and cooperation both with the see of Peter and with the public authorities, for their attention to the victims and to the law. The British episcopate has done and is doing great work, and I am very grateful."
After landing in Edinburgh, Scotland, the first act of Benedict XVI's visit - which is also a formal state visit, something unusual in pontifical journeys - was the meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.
In the speech addressed to the queen, at the royal palace of Holyroodhouse, the pope warned of the risk that the United Kingdom might lose its Christian character, something that has been shown to be decisive in crucial passages of history, even recently:
"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. [...] 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)."
He issued an admonition to the British media, because of their influence on public opinion all over the world:
"Looking abroad, the United Kingdom remains a key figure politically and economically on the international stage. Your Government and people are the shapers of ideas that still have an impact far beyond the British Isles. This places upon them a particular duty to act wisely for the common good. Similarly, because their opinions reach such a wide audience, the British media have a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights. May all Britons continue to live by the values of honesty, respect and fair-mindedness that have won them the esteem and admiration of many."
And he asked for respect for the cultures and traditions threatened by the intolerance of modern secularism:
"Today, 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. May God bless Your Majesty and all the people of your realm".
The third act of the first day of Benedict XVI's trip was the Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, on the feast day of Saint Ninian, one of the first evangelists of Scotland.
In the homily, the pope urged Christians to be "examples of faith in public," in order to prevent the world from becoming a "jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms":
"The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a 'dictatorship of relativism' threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man's nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister. For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith's wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation."
And he invited to "a testimony in keeping with the salvific truth of the Word of God" the Christians of the different denominations present in Scotland, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Catholics:
"I note with great satisfaction how Pope John Paul's call to you to walk hand in hand with your fellow Christians has led to greater trust and friendship with the members of the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and others. Let me encourage you to continue to pray and work with them in building a brighter future for Scotland based upon our common Christian heritage. In today's first reading we heard Saint Paul appeal to the Romans to acknowledge that, as members of Christ's body, we belong to each other (cf. Rom 12:5) and to live in respect and mutual love. In that spirit I greet the ecumenical representatives who honour us by their presence. This year marks the 450th anniversary of the Reformation Parliament, but also the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, which is widely acknowledged to mark the birth of the modern ecumenical movement. Let us give thanks to God for the promise which ecumenical understanding and cooperation represent."
Catholics make up a larger percentage of the population in Scotland. They are 17 percent of the population, while in England and Wales they are 8 percent. A century ago, there were far fewer of them everywhere.
The increase in the number of Catholics in the entire United Kingdom has taken place both among the intellectual classes and in the more humble strata.
Among the former there have been illustrious converts from Anglicanism: from Newman to Benson, from Oscar Wilde to Chesterton, from Graham Greene to Evelyn Waugh. Among the latter, the Irish immigrants have been decisive, all of them Catholic. 28 percent of Catholics in Glasgow are of Irish origin, and 46 percent in Liverpool.
Compared with the Anglicans, Catholics attend Mass more regularly. The transition in Sunday attendance took place in 2006: 862,000 Catholics (15 percent of the total), 852,000 Anglicans.
Moreover, the Catholic Church today is exercising a growing pull on substantial groups of Anglicans, with bishops and priests, who feel ill at ease with the modernist tendencies of some of their coreligionists, and cannot stand female bishops and homosexual marriages.
Sandro Magister. "Mission Britannia. The Sun Shines in Glasgow." Chiesa.com (September 16, 2010).
Reprinted with permission from Sandro Magister.
Sandro Magister manages Chiesa and write from Rome.
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