The visit which was surrounded in controversy during the time of its preparation, concluded in great joy. It turned out to be a great feast for an event which made such an indelible mark. There were protests, but they were small compared to the thousands of people – both Catholic and non – who surprised everyone by pouring out into the streets to welcome Benedict XVI. Even the Catholic bishops were overcome with joyful emotion. No one was expecting anything like it, such a success, a true miracle in answer to many prayers.
In 4 days the Pope spoke to the laity, religious, children, youths, politicians, bishops and seminarians, the Catholic faithful, members of other Churches and of other religions. He instilled hope in everyone and placed Christianity and its values at the heart of the society, encouraging everyone not to marginalize them. His words were an answer to the challenge of secularism, which is so strongly felt in this country, and they provoked a positive and generous response in those who heard him speak.
He completely dispelled the vision which some people had of him as a cold and distant man. The visible testimony of his union with God, his concentration in prayer, and his personal love for every person won over the hearts of many! Each word that he spoke seemed to throw light on specific topics.
The ecumenical ceremony in Westminster Abbey was an intensely spiritual moment where a new vision of ecumenism emerged, the churches joined together in response to the “aggressive secularism”. This was underscored by Archbishop Rowan Williams when he addressed the Pope with these words:
“ . . . (We) pray that your time with us in Britain may help us all towards a renewal of the hope and energy we need as Christians to witness to our conviction that in their relation to God men and women may grow into the fullest freedom and beauty of spirit.” And speaking to Catholic and Anglican Bishops who were joined together, the Archbishop said: “The obstacles which still exist do not prevent us from finding new ways to build each other up in holiness”.
A remarkable number of people followed his visit on television. BBC and Sky transmitted all the events live. It was like living with the Pope for four days.
As he said goodbye to the Pope at the airport, Prime Minister David Cameron remarked: “He spoke to a nation of 6 million Catholics, but more than 60 million citizens listened to him. He offered a message not only to the Catholic Church but to each of us, persons with faith and those without faith. His words challenged the entire nation to ‘wake up’ and think . . . because I think that all of us can share his message to work for the common good and that each of us has a social obligation towards the other, towards our family and our community and, obviously, this caring should extend beyond our shores . . . His presence among us was a great honor for our land.”
The Pope thanked everyone for the warm hospitality which he received. He confirmed that the diversity of English society offers opportunities to deepen ecumenical, interreligious, and intercultural dialogues and that it is, for this very reason, greatly enriching for the entire community.
In his concluding remarks to the Catholic bishops, the Pope encouraged them to “explore appropriate and efficacious ways” of “involving in the Church’s mission” “the new ecclesial movements that have a particular charism for evangelization.”
When at Mass we heard the words of Jesus to “put the lamp on a lamp stand”, it seemed to be confirming what the Pope had done in the heart of each person who heard him speak.