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Building on the papal visit JAMES LEACHMAN


Church. The Pope spoke with his wisdom, humanity and obvious affection; the British responded with an unexpectedly warm wel- come – and it was not just practising Catholics who reacted so warmly. Now, in these days after the visit, there are enormous opportunities for the Churches in Britain to respond to the obvious spiritual thirst of our people.


Cast out your nets F


Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain has been hailed as an outstanding success. But how can it become a starting point to help those making their first steps towards faith, or those tentatively wanting to return to the Church?


or the four days of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain it seemed at times as if the heart of the nation was beating with that of the Catholic


his private meeting with victims. Non- practising Catholics took notice of his spiritual message and wondered what they had been missing. Christians of other Churches showed great enthusiasm; they and members of other faiths welcomed his contribution to the debate on the place of religion in society. Politicians and others in public life reacted positively to his address in the historic Westminster Hall. The cynical media were clearly wrong-footed by the fabulously organised roadshow for the nation. I have spent time recently in Lincoln among


Catholics, alienated by the child-abuse scan- dal, responded to the Pope’s frequent apologies and references to his shame and pain, and to


Church of England and Catholic friends and family. After Evensong in the (Anglican) cath- edral one day, some of us were received by a delightful member of the cathedral commu- nity, many of whose Church of England friends had followed the papal visit on television and considered it an astounding success. Some who had stopped attending were considering a return to regular worship in the church that had nurtured their faith. The Catholics I met were also united in their conviction that they had seen the Pope as he is for the first time, rather than through the distorting medium of a press that is often cynical and atheistic – and they had experi- enced a shift in their attitude towards him. One of the central elements of Pope Benedict’s call was that all people of faith should have an active voice in society. Religious faith is not a private experience or hobby, and it must be active in pro- moting justice and truth. It was clear from his joy- ful meeting with young people at Twickenham and outside Westminster Cathedral, and with the elderly in Vauxhall, south London, that both he and they were moved. They welcomed his call to follow Christ and become the saints of the twenty-first century. The visit was also a powerful reminder through the pilgrims who turned out that the Church is “catholic” – that is, international, multicultural and multicoloured and that it includes people of all ages. A further thread running through the papal liturgies was that beauty and the transcendent attract us and help us to respond to Christ’s call. So how we can build on these events (which seemed more like a pilgrimage than a state


4 | THE TABLET | 2 October 2010


visit)? How do we maintain a momentum over the coming months and years? What can our parish communities do in practice? It seems clear that the Churches must work


One of the central elements of Pope Benedict’s call was that all people of


faith should have an active voice in society


together in responding to the grace of the Papal visit – and each parish community will also have to develop its own plan of action. Christians can work together to be advocates for those who are manipulated and instru- mentalised by our society: the unborn, the young, the old, the disabled, the unemployed, the discriminated, migrants. We must consider in our parishes how we can help young people to withstand the crav- ing for the false values of alcohol, drugs, style, a consumerist sexuality and power promoted by ruthless advertising. This is the kind of Church the Pope has shown we can be in Britain.


There are two groups in particular we should focus on in the coming months: those inspired tentatively to consider becoming Christians and those who, as my Church of England friend pointed out, wish to enquire about returning to regular worship. They may find the journey daunting and be fearful. So we might organise groups in our parishes to welcome back those who wish to return. This will require advertising in the parish and, perhaps, in the local press; and people will need to be reminded that personal encour- agement is often most effective. We might make sure that people are aware of pro-


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