By Karen McDonald
September 28, 2010. London, England. A New Britain in Four Days – this is the positive spirit we in Britain feel following the Holy Father’s uplifting visit.
View a photo gallery of the events here.
Headlines, such as “We will not be silenced, Pope tells secular Britain” and “Four days that changed Britain” were the early and closing remarks printed by the British press during the recent Holy Father’s visit to the United Kingdom, and were representative of the mood when he arrived and after his successful visit.
Pope Benedict XVI was the first Pope ever to be invited by our monarch and her government for a state visit and, therefore, was quite different to the pastoral visit of Pope John Paul in 1982. This state visit gave more emphasis to the Holy Father’s meeting with the Queen, the government and his address to our society at large.
Christians in Britain have increasingly felt marginalised and unable to witness their love of God in the public arena, with secularism gaining a stronghold in this country, and so we were immensely grateful the Holy Father came to highlight these dangers to those in power. On thanking the Holy Father for his visit, Prime Minister Cameron remarked, “You have really challenged the country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing.”
Regnum Christi in the UK and Ireland joined together for various opportunities to support the Holy Father’s visit. We were blessed with a Legionary presence with Frs Michael Mullan and Darren Brennan, who came from Ireland; Fr Martin Connor (former UK RC Section Director) from the USA; Fr Peter Shekelton over from Brazil; and seminarian Br James Shekelton over from Mexico.
Thursday, 16th September
The Holy Father’s arrival and welcome by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen at Holyrood in Scotland, and then various members of the Royal Family, and lay and religious dignitaries was witnessed by hundreds of thousands all over Britain, either in person or through the national media. Some 125,000 lined the streets of Edinburgh to welcome the Holy Father.
At the Bellahouston Mass, where an estimated 75,000 pilgrims attended, Pope Benedict said he encouraged “the Catholic professionals, politicians and teachers of Scotland never to lose sight of their calling to use their talents and experience in the service of the faith, engaging contemporary Scottish culture at every level. The evangelisation 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 privatise it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty.”
The Pope then continued individual addresses to the Bishops of Scotland, the Priests and Religious of Scotland and to the young Catholics of Scotland. (The complete video recordings of all the Holy Father´s engagements and transcripts of all the speeches made during his visit can be found on www.thepapalvisit.org.uk.)
Friday, 17th September
The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham, welcomed the Holy Father to London at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham. The Pope addressed the young, saying he hoped there were some present who would be the future saints of the 21st century, that God wanted them to become holy and that he loved them more than they could imagine. The Pope went on to say that “being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still…True happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationship with others, but in God. Only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts… And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change…” It was a message that can apply to us all.
The Holy Father gave an address to the religious, to teachers, to representatives of other religions, to politicians and gave an ecumenical celebration during the day. So many profound speeches were given, all opening our minds towards a wider awareness of what this country can do.
Saturday, 18th September
On the third day of the papal visit, hundreds gathered outside London’s Westminster Cathedral where the clergy and a number of laity of Britain attended a Mass with the Pope, hearing him speak on the mystery of the Precious Blood, the abuse of children, the history of the Catholic Church here, and the clergy’s and laity’s responsibility to the Church as well as vocations and seminarians.
The Holy Father’s visited St Peter’s Residential Home, where he spoke compassionately with the elderly, and then went on to the Hyde Park Vigil, where an estimated 80,000 pilgrims gathered for an evening of prayer and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The silence during Exposition was so powerful, a tremendous respect and devotion from so many young and older. The Holy Father asked the young to be open to God’s call as Christians cannot continue with “business as usual” nor should society today ignore the “profound crisis of faith.”
The visiting Legionaries, RC Members from around the UK and a member from Spain joined their parishes in Hyde Park, and experienced a unity in the crowds even if we weren’t all together. After the vigil ended around 10 pm we drove for 2.5 hours up to Birmingham to be ready to meet coaches to Cofton Park at 4:30 am.
Sunday, 19th September
The atmosphere leading up to the Mass as tens of thousands waited 5 hours for the Pope to arrive, was magical. It was quite amazing that an estimated 55,000 people were up at 1:30 in the morning to travel and wait in the cold and rainy weather for the 10 a.m. beatification Mass. When the Pope arrived, the sun burst out and there were huge screams of excitement, but within seconds the atmosphere changed to the reverence one would expect for a Sunday Mass.
Cardinal John Henry Newman was an Anglican theologian who was received into the Catholic Church in 1845, and after his ordination, he began an Oratorian novitiate with other members of the old Littlemore community prior to establishing the Oratory of St Philip Neri at Maryvale in 1848, from where it moved to Birmingham in 1849. This was the first Beatification to take place in this country; and Cardinal Newman is the first English “Confessor of Faith” to be beatified in over 600 years.
Wednesday, 22nd September
Six RC UK members, including two Legionaries, attended a beautiful Mass at the London Brompton Oratory in thanksgiving to God and in honour of Blessed Newman, where a newly built altar was blessed by His Grace the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols. This was a wonderful way to close the celebrations of Blessed Newman’s beatification.
In the Papal Audience on 22nd September, the Holy Father said, “Blessed John Henry Newman´s clear-minded search to know and express the truth in charity, at whatever cost to his own personal comfort, status and even friendships, is a wonderful testimony of a pure desire to know and love God in the communion of the Church. His is surely an example that can inspire us all.”
Read testimonies from pilgrims at the event here.