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Posted January 14, 2011 in MH Robin Hood's Bay, England:
The Pope’s Visit to England

by Cheryl Ann Smith.

In the months before the visit of Pope Benedict to England, opposition to him and to the Catholic Church was violent, virulent, and increasing in intensity each day.

You name it: someone or some group was protesting something about him. One placard even read: "Down with this sort of stuff."

Voices were raised in a cacophony that peaked with the arrest of six men who were allegedly planning a terrorist attack on the whole thing.

But as soon as the pope arrived in his loving serenity, those voices were largely silenced—or at least muted. As the half million people from different countries lined the streets and packed the parks to see and support and be blessed by Pope Benedict, calm returned to the land.

By the end of the four days, politicians, Church figures, the proverbial man on the street, and even the secular press, were mostly singing Pope Benedict’s praises.

By his shyness, his courtesy, his love, his very being, he had won the hearts of the people. But it was more than that. This man prayed like Moses, with us Christians holding up his arms, for a spiritual victory to be won. And it was.

Drama and history filled each day; it was a time of firsts. It was the first state visit of a pope to England. It was the first time the heads of the Catholic Church and the Church of England met to pray together in friendship in Westminster Abbey.

It was the first time Pope Benedict broke his rule to not preside over beatifications. (In 2005, he decreed that they should be presided over by the local bishop in the diocese of the one being beatified).

Pope Benedict was graciousness itself as he encouraged the British people to be proud of their Christian and humanitarian traditions, and he thanked them for standing up to the Nazis during World War II.

He emphasized the points of unity and friendship between the Anglican and Roman Catholic faiths. He was able to praise the people, yet also warn them about aggressive secularism and the marginalization of Christianity in British society.

He spoke to politicians in an intelligent and cogent way, exhorting them to allow the principles of Christian morality to guide political decisions, and to marry faith and reason.

He was visibly moved by the enthusiasm of the young people, and he showed his love and concern for them by spelling out the temptations assailing them and urging them to resist.

Pope Benedict reached out to the victims of sexual abuse, and he visited a home for the elderly. He reached out for a little bundle in pink blankets, kissed the baby, and stooped to pick up her soother that had fallen to the ground.

One of the high points of the visit for me was the beatification of Cardinal Henry Newman, which Nikola and I attended. We joined 50,000 others in the pre-dawn gathering in Cofton Park in Birmingham, near Newman’s Oratory. There we mingled with people of all ages to bear witness to the presence of God in our Church and country.

It reminded me of our little prayer group at the dock. Certainly the weather did. We had to wear seven layers of clothing (eight, if you include an umbrella) to keep somewhat warm and dry.

"Heart speaks unto heart" was Cardinal Newman’s motto, and the theme for this Mass: God’s Heart and ours, ours with each other, the Pope with the heart of England.

When Benedict XVI returned to Rome, he expressed his joy in this meeting of hearts and said, "In the four intense and very beautiful days spent in that noble land, I had the great joy of speaking to the heart of the people, and they spoke to mine, especially with their presence and the testimony of their faith. I was able to see that the Christian heritage is still strong."

People gathering in prayer, whether with magnificent liturgy or simple hymns, believers witnessing to their faith and the love of God, voices raised to urge a return to spiritual awareness. These gestures, these acts of faith allow light ineffable to shine on our land and to herald hope.

 

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