I have been enjoying watching the live streaming video of the Holy Father’s visit to Scotland, which unfortunately is without commentary, but gives some good viewing. It was something to see the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England together side by side. There are similarities between the two – both are of about the same age, and both have leadership styles that place emphasis upon devotion to their duty coupled with a somewhat old fashioned disdain for the popular press.
The Pope’s speech at Holyrood ticked all the right boxes, though. Check out this paragraph:
Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
In that single paragraph, he defused the fact that he was, of course, on the other side of the conflict between England and Germany, even though, as we know, a reluctant conscript. His Holiness and Her Majesty would both have very vivid memories of that time – although one can be certain that at the time the young German policeman’s son could not have possibly dreamed that he would one day pay a state visit to the young woman who was then the crown princess of the greatest enemy of the Nazi state.
But in the same paragraph, Pope Benedict also acknowledges the suffering of the Jewish people, the challenge “atheist extremism”, and the need to keep “religion and virtue” in public life. Not bad going…
He goes on to say:
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
There is a very interesting mix of ideas in that paragraph. This afternoon I am heading off to hear the English Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali speak on “Courage in a hostile world: promoting the kingdom of God in an increasingly hostile world.” Tonight he is also speaking on “the challenge of radical Islam and aggressive atheism”. From what I heard of him on an interview with Alan Jones on 2GB, and given the folks who are hosting him out here, I don’t think that his message will be quite as subtle as that of Pope Benedict’s. It is very easy for those who have grown up in a “traditionally Christain” society, such as Britain or Australia, to feel threatened by the fact that our modern society is clearly multicultural. As the Pope says, maintaining multiculturalism as a positive aspect of society is a “challenging enterprise”, which needs to
1) “maintain its respect” FOR “traditional values and cultural expressions”
2) be on guard against “aggressive forms of secularism” which do not “value or even tolerate” those expressions
3) uphold that “Christian foundation” which is the very foundation that “underpins” those freedoms which a positive multicultural society seeks to uphold
This applies as much to Australia as to England and even to the US (the Pope speaks of “the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world”). I will be interested to hear how Her Majesty’s bishop presents this example this afternoon and tonight.
In the mean time, keep up with the Papal visit in the UK. Fr Nick is doing a good job of providing the links and such. I am sure that there is much more to come along these lines…