Next month Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Great Britain for the much-anticipated beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. However, the trip’s itinerary, released today by the Vatican, reveals an ambitious papal voyage that will challenge the political, social and ecumenical realities in a secularized nation.
The pope’s visit to the UK will take place from Sept. 16-19. Benedict XVI will begin his trip in Edinburgh, Scotland where he will meet with Queen Elizabeth II and celebrate a public Mass in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. That evening, the pope will fly to London where he will spend the next three days attending religious and civil events. Highlights include an ecumenical visit with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, meetings with the prime minister and members of the opposition party, and a papal speech at a gathering of religious, cultural and civic leaders in Westminster hall. The visit will culminate on Sunday, Sept. 19 with the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham’s Cofton Park. The pope’s address in Westminster Hall will be unique in that the Holy Father will be speaking to all four living former Prime Ministers – Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
With the papal schedule made official today, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi offered some candid insights on the significance of the papal voyage during an interview with Vatican Radio. When asked to characterize the Vatican’s aspirations for the papal trip, Father Lombardi responded:
I would say that what is expected, desired and really hoped for from this visit is that the service of Christian faith and service of the Catholic Church to a very developed but also very secular society, like the United Kingdom, will be presented and understood. A reality in which perhaps many people question the value of Christian witness and indeed Catholic witness in society. Therefore, to help understand that this is a gift to society, a wealth that is offered through a service of spiritual inspiration but, also, of involvement in education, in health, in charity which is very important. Indeed, we hope that the Pope's trip will help make known this friendly positivity of the Catholic Church and the Christian faith, to a society that for many reasons is no longer – perhaps –very aware of this.
For American Catholics interested in following Pope Benedict’s UK visit, EWTN will be providing complete live coverage. Raymond Arroyo, who will anchor EWTN’s coverage, says the trip’s importance is being underestimated in certain quarters.
"To my mind, this visit to the U.K. is to Pope Benedict XVI's papacy what Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland was to his. Not enough attention is being paid to the historicity of this seismic moment," Arroyo said.
Thus far this year Pope Benedict has been well received in trips to Malta, Portugal, and Cyprus. During those voyages he has spoken out strongly in defense of religious liberty, family values, the sanctity of marriage and the dignity of human life. When the pope brings Catholicism’s core social message to the deeply secularized UK, we will certainly be witnessing an important moment. Regardless of the final impact this trip has on the overall culture and religious identity of England, it will certainly be witness to the courage and faithfulness of St. Peter’s successor, who once again will confront the “dictatorship of relativism” with the Gospel of Life.