“Prepare the forthcoming visit of Benedict XVI (16-19 September) and explain to the best the role of faith and the Church in daily life”: these are the aims of “Heart speaks unto heart – The visit of Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom”, the booklet presented by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, at its official launch in London on 15 June. It will be distributed in all parishes in England, Wales and Scotland next weekend. According to Archbishop Nichols, “today there are many gaps in public knowledge in these matters. This booklet seeks to address these gaps”. It will try to answer such questions as “why is the Pope meeting the Queen?’, ‘What has the Pope got to say about how our society works?’, ‘What about child protection?’. The answers given “will be helpful to those who are curious, helpful to those who need to understand a little more, helpful to those who are looking forward intently to these historic days”. “This is the first time that a Pope is visiting the United Kingdom at the invitation of Her Majesty the Queen”, explains the booklet, which bears on its cover the motto of Cardinal Newman’s coat of arms, “Heart speaks unto heart” (cor ad cor loquitur). The Queen’s welcome means that it will be “a State Visit”. “The visit of Pope Benedict will be different” from that of John Paul II in 1982: “He will take part in ecumenical and inter-religious meetings and preside over specifically Catholic events such as the Beatification of John Henry Newman. But as a guest of Her Majesty he comes primarily as a visitor to all the people of the UK, not just those who are Catholics”. “There have been residential diplomatic relations with the Holy See since 1479 in a variety of forms – points out the booklet – . In the modern era, this formal recognition goes back to the time of the First World War”. Today the Holy See and the British Government “share a concern to combat poverty, protect the environment and encourage economic development everywhere, which includes eliminating the burden of unfair debt on poor economies”. “The Christian faith – the booklet continues – has shaped our culture over the last two thousand years. It is not really possible to understand who we are, where we come from or much of what we take for granted, without some appreciation of this historic faith. But more importantly the Christian faith continues to be lived by enormous numbers of people who find in it the deepest sense of meaning and hope for their lives, and whose faith inspires them to work for justice and to offer generous service. The Judaeo-Christian tradition continues to be a well-spring of the values and principles which we so clearly need today. This tradition has much to offer to the common good”. Here is a résumé of the booklet’s answers to the main questions.Why is the Pope meeting the Queen? “Her Majesty knows the Pope has a message for the people of Britain about renewing the moral basis of society. It is an issue she also cares much about…” As head of the Church of England, the Queen too, like the Pope, shares a concern “to foster co-operation and tolerance between people of all faiths. Pope Benedict shares such a mission”. The reply to this question also recalls the fact that Elizabeth II is also Queen of Scots, but is not head of the Presbyterian, or Reformed, Church, which has always “insisted on complete freedom from royal control. The Pope will certainly appreciate the distinction: “The Queen is not the Church’s head – the Church of Scotland says that is Jesus Christ alone”. “This Papal Visit – the booklet concludes – is a privileged moment for the healing of memories; for rejoicing in, and learning from, an extraordinarily rich shared inheritance; and for forging new relationships based on common interests and mutual respect”.“What has the Pope got to say about how our society works?” “The Pope and all in the Catholic Church care deeply about our changing society. Concerns about social justice and cohesion are not just the domain of politicians. They raise big questions about the use, and abuse, of power and money at every level. The Church does not claim to have all the answers, but its teaching does offer signposts and insights”.“Why are there different Churches?” “Divisions are part of the long history of Christianity”, not only in England but throughout the world. “These divisions still exist today. The task of ecumenism is to overcome them: it is a “striving to find again a way of living in visible harmony and, indeed, visible unity”. “The key to ecumenism lies in the shared conviction that in Christ is the truth we all seek and our common search is to know him, love him and serve him as best we can”. That’s why “Christians increasingly pray together before the Lord; work together in service of him; study together to deepen a shared understanding and appreciation of what still divides us; accept each other’s faults and failings, and ask forgiveness for past wrongs”. The booklet also describes the ecumenical liturgies at Westminster Abbey and Lambeth Palace that are on the programme of the papal visit.What about child protection? “The Catholic church is shocked and ashamed by the scandal of child abuse committed by the clergy and other people in positions of trust in Church institutions. It is no less distressed by the fact that in some cases those in authority failed to stop the abuse as soon as it was known. The Church has to confront its own failings and to take effective action at every level”.Why is the Pope beatifying John Henry Newman? Benedict XVI will declare Newman “Blessed” – one step short of sainthood – during his visit to England. “At a special ceremony at Coventry Airport […] the Pope will actually break one of his own rules, because he doesn’t normally perform beatification ceremonies at all”. “While Saints are seen as examples of Christian living for the entire Church, those who are beatified are seen as examples of Christian living for a particular place or country. But Cardinal Newman is very special to Pope Benedict”, so he proposes to relax the normal practice “to honour a great man”. There are many lessons to be learnt from Newman, “beside his search for truth, his commitment to education, his fidelity throughout long dark years”. “But fundamental to everything was his care for people, his pastoral instinct, […] He was at heart a pastoral priest for over 30 years. That is the man Pope Benedict will beatify. He still has much to teach us”.
Booklet of the bishops to prepare Benedict XVI's visit