Saturday, 25 September 2010

Breda O'Brien: papal visit 'triumph of civility'

Writing in today's Irish Times, the teacher and columnist describes how Benedict XVI confounded those who sought to paint him as an authoritarian.

Whatever Benedict did in Britain, he did not bore. People used to the slur, “Nazi pope”, saw instead an elderly man who suffered under Nazism, forced like so many of his generation to join Hitler Youth.

According to the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team, Hitler Youth was the largest youth group in the world, with 7.3 million members. Any parent who held out against it was threatened with forcible removal of their children to an orphanage.

Ironically, it may have been Benedict’s experience of Nazism that shaped his commitment to truth as a boundary against totalitarianism. John L Allen jnr, the respected reporter on the Vatican, agrees. “Under Hitler, Ratzinger says he watched the Nazis twist and distort the truth. Their lies about Jews, about genetics, were more than academic exercises. People died by the millions because of them. The church’s service to society, Ratzinger concluded, is to stand for absolute truths that function as boundary markers.”

For some people, the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church has been fatally undermined by the nature of the response to the abuse scandals. Benedict mentioned the scandals four times, and made clear his abhorrence. However, the UK visit showed that while the scandals are and should continue to be central, this does not negate every other contribution that faith can make. In a sense, Benedict was not there just as a representative of the Roman Catholic faith, but as an articulate exponent of the right of religion to be treated with respect and tolerance. Much was made of his references to aggressive secularism, and the fact that he spoke of attempts to prevent celebration of Christmas struck a particular chord with British listeners. However, the pope has made it clear that while aggressive secularism exists, he is a proponent of what he calls “positive secularity”.

As Raymond d’Souza says: “He has argued not so much as a Christian combatant against secularism, but rather in favour of a secularism that preserves the great achievements of European culture.”

Archbishop Rowan Williams echoed this theme. “We do not, as churches, seek political power or control, or the dominance of Christian faith in the public sphere, but the opportunity to testify, to argue, sometimes to protest, sometimes to affirm – to play our part in the public debates of our societies.” It’s a modest enough hope, and one that came closer as a result of the recent visit.

The visit was a triumph for civility, and for mutual respect. It showed there is a limited tolerance for verbal abuse, and an ability to see goodness beyond the caricatures.

+Vincent reflects on papal visit in pastoral letter

The Archbishop of Westminster's pastoral letter to be read out at Mass in his diocese this weekend:

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We have been very blessed indeed by the Visit of Pope Benedict during those four marvellous and unforgettable days. His presence has brought such joy and given a great boost to so many. I am immensely grateful to Her Majesty The Queen for extending the invitation to Pope Benedict to come on a State Visit to the United Kingdom.

There is so much to talk about. But at this point I offer some brief initial reflections.

The Holy Father has given us new heart for our mission. In our Cathedral he spelt out that task. 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 have glimpsed the beauty of holiness especially in the moments of prayer during this Visit. The holiness of God is reflected in the reverence shown in the liturgies, in the actions of the Mass, in the music and song we have offered and most vividly in the silence of prayer. The beauty of this holiness permeates us from within as ‘heart speaks unto heart’. I will never forget the richness of the silence of 80,000 people at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in Hyde Park. I hope every celebration of Mass contains times of shared silence in which we can draw close to the Lord.

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.

The Holy Father has also asked us to witness to the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ. He certainly did so himself, with his own serenity and unfailing generosity of response to both individuals and great crowds. We can do the same, day by day, as long as our focus remains on the Lord and, particularly, in his power to forgive and heal us. We find our joy and freedom in the saving sacrifice of Christ. From it we draw the strength to be generous and self-sacrificing ourselves. Young people, too, gave witness to this joy and freedom. Outside our Cathedral they exclaimed their desire to be saints in the third millennium! Their pathway will be that of heartfelt prayer and generous service.

With the blessings of this Visit we can be more confident in our faith and more ready to speak about it and let it be seen each day. A small step we can all take is to be quicker to say to others that we will pray for them, especially to those in distress. Prayer is the first fruit of faith in the Lord and we grow so much by giving prayer its place in our homes and in our hearts. Even the simple step of more regularly using the greeting ‘God bless you’, gently and naturally, would make a difference to the tone we set in our daily lives as would the more frequent use of the Sign of the Cross. Making faith visible is so much a part of the invitation the Holy Father has extended to us all.

In these ways we can begin to respond to the urging of the Holy Father ‘that the Catholics of this land will become ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness.’

I thank everyone who worked so hard in preparation for this Visit, through difficulties, doubts and criticism. I thank all who came to show their love for the Holy Father. Travelling with the Holy Father in the Popemobile gave me a unique experience of the joy, delight and love in the faces of so many. I thank God for our Pope and for all the blessings of this Visit from which we have so much to ponder and learn for a long time to come.

Britain to have ordinariate 'by end of the year'?

Two of the Church of England's "flying bishops" will take up the ordinariate offer by the end of the year, according to Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald. She quotes unnamed "sources" for this. As of a couple of months ago, no application had yet been received by the bishops' conference of England and Wales. It wouldn't be surprising if one were to be made by the end of the year, as Arco suggests. But the headline is misleading. One thing is for Anglicans to apply for an ordinariate before December; another thing altogether is to have the ordinariate -- ie establish it -- by then. Rather a lot of negotiation has to take place first. Anglicanorum coetibus provides the legal means of setting up an ordinariate; the terms of that ordinariate have to be negotiated with the bishops' conference - ie who leads it, what flexibility can be allowed in liturgy, and so on. That takes time.

Catholic populations in Britain and Ireland now level

This seems to be the most interesting finding of the respected CARA institute at Georgetown University in Washington. In 2008, the Catholic populations of Britain and of Ireland were roughly the same: 5.2m in each case.

The study also confirms that, despite being many fewer than Anglicans, there are Catholics in church to Sundays than their Anglican counterparts -- 35 per cent of Catholics go to Mass once a week or more.  

Although fewer in number, Catholics in Britain are more likely than Anglicans to indicate that they regularly attend religious services. Thirty-five percent of British Catholics say they attend Mass once a week or more often and 19% say they do not attend weekly but go to Mass at least once a month. By comparison, just one in ten Anglicans attend services weekly and 13 percent attend at least once a month (all of these attendance estimates are likely overestimated due to social desirability pressures; see: The Nuances of Accurately Measuring Mass Attendance). The difference is very significant because it means that the number of weekly church attending Catholics (3.2% of the total adult population) is greater than the number of weekly church attending Anglicans (2.8% of the total adult population) in Britain.
Here is the relevant table: