It is thirty years since Pope John Paul – now Blessed John Paul – came to Britain. He himself summed up the significance of the visit “For the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil.”
The anniversary has been noted in the British media not so much for its real importance but simply because his visit coincided with something else – the Falklands War. It was an astonishing time. The Papal visit had been long-planned – but could it go ahead, given that Britain was at war with Argentina? The Pope himself solved the problem. He flew to Argentina for a visit there before the British trip. He could never take sides in a war such as this – his only message must be of peace.
Thirty years ago. Many things in Britain have got drearier and sadder since that time. We are dying – our birthrate is below replacement level. Great numbers of unborn babies are killed in abortion clinics daily. Chillingly, our Government is attempting to force through a law which will pretend that two people of the same sex can marry.
We have a high rate of crime and of family breakdown. Last summer, riots in various British cities made headlines worldwide, and just recently our newspapers have been reporting some of the court cases that resulted from the widespread looting: many of those arrested turned out to be from quite well-to-do families who have been accompanying their offspring to court with lawyers.
There is a sense of fear about the future: people know that their children will carry immense financial and social burdens as they grow older.
The Church seeks to be a voice of hope, and figures for Mass attendance and for vocations to the priesthood have been looking a little better over the past couple of years. But it is well known that most pupils at Catholic secondary schools do not attend Mass regularly, and it is also known that many Catholics do not follow the moral law and insist on using artificial contraception.<p></p>
With some young friends, I am off to Poland this coming week, on a John Paul pilgrimage. We are visiting Krakow, and Wadowice. We will pray at the shrine of Divine Mercy, visit Bl. John Paul’s birthplace, explore Krakow’s cathedral and castle and more. And we will pray for Britain, remembering that John Paul told us “Do not be Afraid!” and that his biographer has famously described him as a “Witness to Hope”.