This week the United Kingdom welcomes Pope Benedict XVI on the first state visit of the Pope ever on British soil. Pope John Paul came for a pastoral visit 28 years ago. This time, the Pope is coming upon the invitation of the Queen, the monarch and head of the Church of England. From 16-19 September he will spend time with different sectors of British society (see UK Papal Visit for complete itinerary) and conclude with the beatification of John Henry Newman.
Controversies surround the Pope’s coming. There’s a lot of reaction to the expenses this visit will incur. The media continuously broadcasts objections to the Roman Catholic Church’s law or stand on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, ordination of women, etc, and the scandal of sexual abuse by priests. Protest actions are being organized to put these issues in the limelight while the Pope is here. Criticism and open hostility to the person of the Pope, his teachings and the Roman Catholic Church is not unusual. Anti-Catholicism is part of the history of Britain and of the air one breathes in this Christian nation.
And yet quietly, and I must say very effectively, parishes and schools have been actively making preparations to celebrate the pope’s coming: there are prayer sessions, meetings, concerts, and other events. The commitment and enthusiasm of Catholics, particularly in our own parish is really inspiring. Please pray that there be a renewal of faith in this highly secularized society and for a renewed sense of belonging among Catholics. May the Pope’s visit be a time of great blessings for all.
I suppose it is in this culture which allows plurality of thought and freedom of expression that great thinkers flourish. The arduous search for meaning and life ultimately finds home in the Truth. I think of C. S. Lewis, G K Chesterton and John Henry Newman whom the Pope will raise to the altars as a Beato on Sunday.
Newman was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism. He was ordained a Catholic priest, founded the Oratory in Birmingham and a few years before his death was elected a cardinal. This deep, highly intellectual man wrote one of the most lovely prayer “Lead Kindly Light” and a meditation that is as timeless as the truth he sought:
God has created me to do him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission.
I may never know what it is in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good, I shall do his work.
Therefore I will trust him.
Whatever I do, wherever I am, I cannot be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him.
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.
He does nothing in vain.
He knows what he is about.