Expectations mount

Only a few days remain before Benedict XVI's visit

It’s the first State Visit of a Pope to Scotland and England since the Protestant Reformation. John Paul II’s visit in 1982 was, in fact, a pastoral visit. Benedict XVI instead will be the guest of Queen Elizabeth from 16 to 19 September. “An historical event”: so it has been called by Lord Christopher Patten, envoy of the British Prime Minister for the papal visit to the UK, in a press conference held together with the Catholic Primate and Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols. “The new government coalition regards this visit as a special moment for everyone, Christians, Catholics and non-Catholics alike”. This historic journey is commented on, in an interview with SIR Europe, by Mgr. Andrew Summersgill, coordinator on the visit on behalf of the English Bishops’ Conference.What kind of visit will that of Benedict XVI be to the UK?“It’s a journey during which the Pope will have an opportunity to meet a much secularized society. Many people will have an opportunity for the first time to get to know the Christian faith. This is a conviction that has also been reinforced during these months of preparatory work shared with the representatives of the British government, a challenging but absorbing task”. The first State Visit of a Pope since the Reformation…“It will be a very significant visit, emphasized by the fact that Benedict XVI’s first appointment will be with the Queen herself. The Pope will be the guest of the State and not just of the local Catholic Church”. The Pope and the Queen are in a very similar situation, since the Queen is head of state but also supreme governor of the Church of England, while the Pope is successor of Peter but also a head of state. They will thus be able to understand each other”.Will the fact that Great Britain is considered one of the most secularized societies of the Western world make the Pope’s visit difficult?“I think it’s difficult for many people to understand the profundity of the Catholic Church and the role of the Holy Father, who is at the same time religious leader and head of state, a situation unique in the international community. Many don’t know why Benedict XVI, who is usually seen as a religious leader, should be received as a head of state. On the other hand, secularism will help the Pope’s visit, because there’s a great deal of curiosity about the Pope. People are wondering what this person is, why he is coming to England and what he will say. During my preparatory work I have realized how many people there are who are not religious but who are working hard for the success of this visit”.If widespread secularization can become a fruitful terrain for the Pope’s message, how can the Pope exploit this opportunity?“I think that the Pope, speaking very clearly and directly, as he always does, can reach out to British society, because this is precisely the typical way in which the English communicate with each other, very directly. I think he will also bear witness to his faith, and how important this is for him, both as a person and a pastor. We English are interested in personal convictions and what is it that fosters dialogue”.How are you spiritually preparing for the visit?“We have asked everyone to pray for the success of the Pope’s journey and we have prepared an ad hoc prayer for this visit which has been printed so that the faithful can recite it after mass and take it home with them. We have received many emails from parishioners who have said they are praying for the visit and many of them will join in novenas that will end on 15 September, on the eve of the Pope’s arrival. The Pope is coming on pilgrimage here to England, but those who go to meet him on the various occasions will also be pilgrims. A million copies of the missal for the Pope’s visit have been prepared. The booklet contains the liturgical texts and some articles about the visit. Enough copies of it have been printed for every home and also for all those who participate in such events as the mass at Bellahouston, in Glasgow, the vigil in Hyde Park and the beatification of John Henry Newman”.How do Anglicans see the Pope’s visit?“The Archbishop of Canterbury and his predecessors have made many visits to the Vatican. John Paul II, during his pastoral visit to England, had met the then archbishop Robert Runcie in Canterbury Cathedral, but this will be the first time that the Pope will go to the archbishop’s home in Lambeth Palace, thus repaying the visits he has received. The fact that the Pope will this time go to the Anglican Archbishop’s residence is an important opportunity for dialogue. The Anglicans with whom I have worked in recent months both at Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey regard the Pope as a brother and spiritual father”.How, on the other hand, will the British media welcome the Pope?“I think there will be some variety in their coverage. Television is working hard to transmit the whole visit, whereas the space that the press will dedicate to the Pope, and the ways in which they will treat it, will be different. I think the first day and the impression that journalists receive will be crucial. If it’s good, then the coverage will be good”.

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