Patrick Ward writes…
So… seven days have now passed since The Holy Father left these shores following his historic visit to the UK. Life quickly returned to normal. By Monday the blanket news coverage had virtually stopped, by Tuesday the Tweeters ran out of puff, by Wednesday the pilgrims had caught up on their lost sleep and people went on continuing with their lives as before. If you are like me, you might have indulged in the odd conversation here and there with Catholics who followed the visit and also with non-Catholics who were demonstrating an unusually high level of interest in the faith. But before long, the buzz of the four-day visit soon abated and we were left with just memories.
So what was it all about? What will be the legacy of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK?
This weekend +Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, delivered a pastoral letter throughout his Diocese to reflect on the visit. Here is an extract:
The Holy Father has given us new heart for our mission. He said we are to be witnesses to the beauty of holiness, to the splendour of the truth and to the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ.
We witness best to the splendour of the truth of our faith when we follow the example given by Pope Benedict. In speaking of our faith he was always so gentle and courteous, so sensitive to the achievements and anxieties of his listeners, so clear and reasoned in presenting difficult points, so humble and open-hearted. We must strive for these same qualities when speaking about our faith, in witnessing to its truth.
Like many others, I was greatly encouraged and impressed by The Holy Father’s sensitivity to our multicultural, pluralistic society. He has, indeed, led the way in showing us that we can be witnesses to our faith without taking an aggressive stance. Yes, in these times we must sometimes be counter-cultural but we can do this by taking the centre-ground of reason and not placing ourselves on the periphery of society.
Growing in knowledge and understanding of our faith is vital if we are to be witnesses to this truth. For so many Catholics, both practising and non-practising, this is where we feel most ill-at-ease when facing the challenging, difficult questions of life.
There is, I feel, a great need for grounded, solid teaching of the faith in our churches and in our schools; practical, down-to-earth catechesis for the many, not the few. Preparing for the sacraments offers the Church wonderful channels to engage with its people. I am often disheartened by the missed opportunities when I see dodgy confirmation programmes or flimsy marriage preparation courses which fail to ask deep, fundamental questions. People yearn to understand and deepen their faith and as the church we have a responsibility to respond to this need.
In my first blog for this site, Heart Speaking to Heart, I commented on the impact of the visit of Pope John Paul II on me as an eight-year-old. I raised the question whether Pope Benedict XVI would speak to hearts in the same way that his predecessor did those years ago. If I’m honest, I doubted whether he would. However, I have been blessed by the decision I made to engage with faithful openness; I have been deeply touched by this visit.
Writing this blog has helped me to collate my thoughts, sharpen my observations and reflect on the experience of the visit. Thanks to those who have dipped in now and then, and special thanks to those people who commented on previous blogs so honestly and openly. Your words have been really appreciated.