On Friday I decided to go to London myself to greet Pope Benedict; it seemed only courteous. However, the penance of attending in person is that one misses out on all the other events of the day on television for the sake of whatever brief sight one can gain of the Holy Father. So most of the events of the day I had to catch up afterwards.
The first visit was to St Mary's College, Twickenham, for a meeting with those involved with Catholic education. Many schoolchildren were invited (including several from my parish school) to 'The Big Assembly' and celebrated together with the Holy Father, who spoke to them about becoming saints (video here, starts about 11.00, text here) and also addressed those responsible for education (see it here).
In the afternoon, I met up with a good friend, an Anglican priest, Fr William Perry, and we took up our station outside Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
You can find a video of the Holy Father's speech in Lambeth Palace here, which unfortunately cuts short the Archbishop's speech, and is a little discourteous in its description.
We found a good spot on a roundabout outside the palace gates, only to discover that whoever was leading the papal convoy when it emerged from the ancient gates in the shadow of the tower where Thomas More was arrested (nobody mentioned that), decided to ignore traffic rules (and, more importantly, the crowds of people gathered round the roundabout to greet the Pope), and bypassed both. So I only got this rather distant view of the Holy Father for a few seconds; however you can see the Houses of Parliament, his destination, in the distance.
Fr William, my companion, got suddenly enthusiastic, and while I was busy taking some pictures for this post, he reached into his pocket, unfolded a sheet of paper that I had no idea he was carrying, and held it up over the crowd. Here he is holding it for the camera. That word 'our' is very telling!
The Holy Father went on to the Palace of Westminster, and in particular to Westminster Hall, the very place where St Thomas More had been condemned to death. As he entered, there was a fanfare and in an endearingly innocent way, he turned around and gaped up at the heralds with their trumpets as if to say 'what an extraordinary noise!'.
In the hall were assembled the leaders of civil society; I was surprised at how full the hall was. The Pope addressed them once more in his fearless way (talk about bearding the lion in his den!) about the necessity of permitting religion to freely express itself within a civilization, for the saving of the civilization itself.
In that, he is preaching to the choir, at least in the present government. Our new coalition government seems to be beginning to recognize that the recent financial crisis has been caused by a moral vacuum in business and increasingly in society in general, and wants to repair that. Two Anglican thinkers, Phillip Blond and Professor John Milbank have been attending recent conferences of Communione et Liberazione in Italy and have become enthusiasts for its vision of a renewed and ethical society. This has translated into the Prime Minister's project for what he calls the Big Society: time will show whether this will really be supported in practice, or turn out to be a way of shoving off concern for the poor onto the Church while continuing to marginalize the same Church in all other respects. The words of the Holy Father struck right to the heart of this:
Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.
You can read the Holy Father's words here.
And see the whole event on EWTN / Gloria TV here.
Or the Pope's address alone, with better quality picture, here.
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