London’s Christian radio station, “Premier,” has a regular feature, “Thoughts,” in which a broadcaster offers a short inspirational talk. I was recently asked to produce a series of five “Thoughts,” and below is one on the subject of the Pope’s planned visit to Britain.
If there is to be a Papal visit to Britain next year, what effect will it have on relationships between Christians of different denominations?
Catholics know very well that Christians outside the Catholic Church do not recognise the position of the Pope. But, in recent years, with increasing ecumenical goodwill, there has come to be a better understanding of his role. There was also great respect for John Paul II as an individual.
Pope Benedict XVI, who was a close personal friend of John Paul II as well as his foremost adviser and consultor, began his papacy with the handicap of nationality. He is a German. And despite the fact that one of his deepest and most driving issues is the need for reconciliation between Christians and Jews – with the result that he has closer bonds with some Jewish rabbis than he has with some clergy in his own flock – the mass media find it easier to remind everyone of his ancestry than of his beliefs.
When he lifted the restrictions on the use of an older form of liturgy last year, he insisted that one prayer be altered. He banned the use of the older form of a Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jewish people and substituted instead a newer version which used less strident and offensive language. The media announced the opposite, and this lie has continued to be bandied about ever since. I have seen the older and the newer versions of the prayer. Indeed, I have argued with a traditionalist Catholic who insisted, for no good reason, that the older version should stay simply because it was older and that liturgy should never be changed.
Pope Benedict XVI is a mild-mannered, large-minded man with no prejudices and a great dislike of bigotry and personal arrogance. He is polite, almost to a fault, has a gift for friendship, and was hugely popular as a lecturer and professor – the only member of the academic staff at his university not to face barracking or taunts during the student riots of the 1960s. “Everyone liked him” was the general comment. “He was shy and approachable.”
If he comes to Britain, traditional British tolerance and hospitality will be shown to him. And, in an era when Christians need to work together to tell our country about Christ, we might all just get a boost from a man who has dedicated his life to doing just that.