Saturday, 11 September 2010

Look out for 'Benedict enigma', says Our Man in the Vatican

Francis Campbell being greeted by Benedict XVI
"I have to say I have never met someone who is so different from his public profile", Francis Campbell, British ambassador to the Holy See, tells The Times' Rome correspondent, Richard Owen.

People expect Benedict XVI to be a "stern dogmatist", says Campbell, "but in fact he is a somewhat shy individual. He comes across as an elderly granderfatherly figure, an academic. He is always deeply interested in the person sitting in front of him, he is not looking at the big stage beyond." The British, he predicts, "will be surprised at his gentleness and humility".

Campbell recalls Pope Benedict's visit to Sydney for World Youth Day two years ago. "One heard in Australia a lot of the same things we are hearing in Britain -- the cost, why is this happening, and so on. But there were 250,000 young people there. Sydney was thronged with people wanting to see Benedict".

Three gems:
  • The Pope, who represents more than 17 per cent of the population, "is someone who may be the spiritual leader of your friends, neighbours and co-workers. There is no other foreign head of state of whom that is true."
  • Far from writing off Britain as godless, the Pope sees Christianity as "very much alive" in Britain. "It may be small in terms of practice, but it has a very vocal position in society, including Anglicanism, Catholicism, Presybterianism and evangelical groups".
  • Pope Benedict "draws a distinction between the Anglo-Saxon version of the Enlightenment, which was about freedom for religion, and the French or continental version, which was about freedom from religion. ... What he would object to is not atheism or humanism; they have their place and are part of the dialogue with faith. What he objects to is the irrationality of some of those on the polemical militant fringe who want to impose their order to the detriment of everything else."