The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales recalls some salient moments of the late Pope Emeritus’ apostolic visit to the United Kingdom and shares his personal memories.
The late Pope Emeritus’ apostolic visit to Britain in September 2010 was “momentous” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols, delving into just some of the many memories he treasures of that “unique occasion”.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales looks back to the challenges Benedict XVI raised during his time in Britain, always putting God at the centre, and “urging people into prayer, into the search for holiness, because that – he knew – is where happiness lies.”
Cardinal Nichols, who accompanied the Pontiff throughout his four-day apostolic visit to England and Scotland in September 2010, at a public level singled out the address he gave in Westminster Hall, describing it as a “very unique occasion.”
“Every living British prime minister was present as well as all the great and the good, and in that very historic setting, Pope Benedict spoke of his esteem and respect for democracy and for the British institutions that support, and indeed promote, democracy,” he said.
But, the Cardinal continued, “he also challenged us by saying that democracy needs to be rooted in clear and firm moral principles.”
“Those moral principles are not established by social consensus, they are arrived at by the use of reason illuminated by faith.”
As he reads that speech again today, Cardinal Nichols said, it is still as relevant as ever.
It was an expression, he explained, of how deeply the late Pope Emeritus understood European history and culture and the dramas of the 20th century.
“His own childhood in Germany with the emergence of the Nazism, out of a democratic society, I think, alerted him to some of those dangers,” he said.
On a more personal level, the President of the Bishops’ Conference chose to share a powerful memory from the vigil of prayer in Hyde Park.
He said that on that occasion he witnessed how “Benedict, with the Blessed Sacrament, managed to inculcate a deep sense of prayer and desire for God with a crowd of 80,000 people.”
“We were gathered in Hyde Park in the centre of London for 15 minutes of absolute silent prayer,” he recalled.
“As one mother said to me afterwards,” the Cardinal continued, “my teenage boys learned more about prayer in those 15 minutes than I had ever been able to teach them. And that was the leadership of Benedict.”
“He had this great desire to urge people into prayer into the search for holiness because that – he knew – is where happiness lies.”
Another vivid memory from that apostolic visit Cardinal Nichols said he treasures, is being with Benedict XVI in the popemobile as it was driven down Pall Mall.
He noted that this is the scene of a very solemn moment for every State visit with the Union Jack and the Papal flags lining the whole length of the street.
“I never thought I would see this very official all-embracing welcome by Britain to the head of the Catholic Church.”
“And as we went down, I said to Pope Benedict, ‘We’re going to Hyde Park and we’re going to use the stage that the BBC has kindly left in place because last week it was used for music for the Proms in the Park, but today it’s going to be used for prayer.”
“He turned to me,” the Cardinal said, “and he smiled and said: never forget that music is prayer as well!”
“That came right from his heart, as a lover of music, and someone who could see the print of God in everything that was beautiful.”
Source: Vatican News