Pope Makes Astounding Impact On Britain
By JOHN BURKE
LONDON — The papal visit to four British cities has proved an unexpected triumph, amazing even Benedict XVI himself who had been aware that the schedule faced both problems and protests.
Although the turnout, which was always going to be lower than that for John Paul II in 1982, was needlessly curtailed, this was compensated for by extensive reporting in the secular media, especially the television channels whose live coverage was almost continuous.
The biggest achievement of His Holiness over four days was in calling the nation back to ancient,Christian values and in reminding ecumenical enthusiasts that he headed the one, true Church that could not abandon disputed doctrine.
For all Catholics, whom he asked to defend their faith, therewere six defining occasions. The very first was when he met the British sovereign in Scotland rather than as Elizabeth II in London where she also heads the Church of England. They met at Holyroodhouse, which was once the palace of Mary Stuart, the last Catholic monarch of Scotland, later executed by Elizabeth I, the first Protestant queen of England.
The next two occasions were in London on September 17. Benedict XVI addressed 1,800 politicians and other civic leaders at the Houses of Parliament, standing at the very spot in Westminster Hall where Sir Thomas More and others were condemned to death for not acknowledging Henry VIII as national head of the Church. Reminding his audience of the famous statesman’s conscience, he outlined “ the proper place of religious belief in the political process.”
The Pope then went across the way to Westminster Abbey, a church nationalized during the Reformation, where he made a point of incensing the tomb of its founder, King Edward the Confessor, and mentioning Archbishop Thomas à Becket who was slain for opposing royal encroachment. This time, His Holiness was exemplifying English champions of the faith to 2,000 churchmen and churchwomen from various Protestant denominations, largely Anglicans led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, whom he had met privately earlier in the day.