Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit to the UK unleashed a torrent of graces on that country, the effects of which will be felt for years to come.
After alighting at Edinburgh Airport on Thursday, September 16, the first day of his visit, the pope traveled via popemobile to Holyroodhouse Palace for his meeting with the Queen. This was followed by a lunch with Scottish bishops. More than 100,000 Scots--including many schoolchildren--lined the streets along his route, joyfully cheering the Holy Father.
That joyful atmosphere persisted into the evening, when Pope Benedict celebrated Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. A huge crowd of up to 100,000 people filled the venue to participate in this event. In his homily, the pontiff discussed the need for evangelization of culture and the vital importance of faith in society. The latter theme was addressed especially to the UK government and general public throughout his visit.
On Friday, Pope Benedict made history when he became the first pope to set foot in Westminster Hall. This large, handsome building erected in the 1300s has housed England's highest law court for some 700 years. It was here that Saint Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535 for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. Inside this historic place, Pope Benedict delivered a masterful speech to the nation's political representatives, intelligentsia, diplomats and religious leaders. He challenged them to examine the basis of their society and noted that faith and reason, Church and state need each other and should work together for the good of civilization.
On Saturday, no fewer than 200,000 well-wishers turned out in the streets of London, waving to the Holy Father as he journeyed from one destination to another. That evening, some 100,000 individuals participated in a prayer vigil with Pope Benedict in Hyde Park in preparation for Cardinal Newman's beatification the following day. The BBC News reported that during his address to the assembled throng, the pontiff remarked that he was happy to see many young people in attendance. The resulting cheers temporarily interrupted his speech.
The major highlight of the pope's visit to England was the long-awaited beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a famous nineteenth-century Oxford scholar and Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism. Blessed Newman's search for truth and his discovery of it in the Catholic Church points the way for modern Anglicans who desire to return to full communion with Rome. Indeed, many Anglicans are already taking advantage of Pope Benedict's apostolic constitution directed to them, which lays down a set of basic guidelines for their reunion with the Catholic Church. Blessed Newman's heavenly intercession will certainly be pivotal in advancing the cause of Christian unity in his native England.
At the Mass of Beatification on Sunday morning, September 19, the Gospel reading was proclaimed by Deacon Jack Sullivan, a native of the United States who was miraculously healed of a severe back problem through the intercession of Cardinal Newman. This was the type of physical cure which the Church had been awaiting for decades in order to beatify Newman.
A memorable papal departure ceremony took place around six that evening at Birmingham Airport. In his farewell address to the pontiff, UK Prime Minister David Cameron was exceptionally kind and gracious, referring to the visit as "an incredibly moving four days for our country." He stated that His Holiness had posed "searching questions...about our society and how we treat ourselves and each other," and declared: "You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think."
Such candid words, spoken in a spirit of goodwill by the head of government of a radically secularist European country, are a source of hope. They indicate an openness to the Pope's message and a willingness to do some serious national self-examination. More broadly, they also suggest that the dictatorship of relativism across Western Europe may be less secure than is often thought.
A good deal of negative publicity and virile attacks on Pope Benedict XVI in the British press preceding his visit to the UK had raised fears among many observers, including myself, that the papal visit would be a disaster for the Pope and the Church. Yet it was a great success. As it turns out, the media had focused undue attention on shrill voices of bigotry and hatred aimed at our Holy Father and the Catholic Church, which were representative only of an isolated minority of the British population. Supporters of the Pope far outnumbered protestors on the streets throughout his stay in the UK, with signs reading "We Love Our German Shepherd" visible among the crowds.
British security and police forces really had their act together for the papal visit, ensuring the safety and mobility of our Holy Father throughout his tour. Enclosed in his bulletproof popemobile and surrounded by a fleet of armed security vehicles, the Pope was smoothly whisked from one place to another, with an occasional last-minute detour in his route or slight delay in his arrival at an event to throw off any possible conspirators. Moreover, the government consistently treated the Holy Father with respect during his visit, refraining from attacks on His Holiness or the Catholic Church.
Furthermore, the weather for the pope's visit was as if scripted for the event. London fog retreated and sunny skies prevailed the first two days. On Sunday morning, just before the beatification Mass for Cardinal Newman, a rainbow framed the papal platform. Thick clouds heralded the Pope's departure.
Divine Providence was obviously arranging the details of Pope Benedict XVI's historic state visit to the United Kingdom. The visit was a resounding success, not just because all the details went well, but because the Vicar of Christ achieved his most important goal: reaching the hearts of the people of England and Scotland with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even the British press and government have had to acknowledge that the Pope's visit was a "triumph." I would like to call it a miracle of God's grace. The seeds planted by the visible head of Christ's Church on earth will surely sprout under the influence of the Holy Spirit in the coming years, bringing a new springtime for Christianity to the historic island of Great Britain.
Copyright © 2010 by Justin Soutar. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.