VATICAN CITY, 16 SEP 2010 (VIS) – This morning Benedict XVI began the seventeenth apostolic trip of his pontificate, travelling to the United Kingdom where, in the city of Birmingham this Sunday 19 September, he is due to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman.
The Pope departed from Rome ‘s Ciampino airport at 8.10 a .m., landing in the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh at 10.30 a .m. local time. There he was welcomed by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth II. From the airport, the Holy Father travelled by car to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official Scottish residence during the summer months. The palace, built as an Augustinian monastery in the year 1128, was dedicated to the Holy Cross by King David I of Scotland after he saw a vision of the crucifix between the antlers of a stag that attacked him. In the sixteenth century it was transformed into a royal residence and in the twentieth century, under King George V, it became the summer home of the royal family.
Arriving at Holyroodhouse the Holy Father was greeted by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. Then, following military honours and the playing of the national anthems, the Pope and the Queen met in private in the palace’s Morning Room. After the meeting, the Pontiff was accompanied to a stage set up behind Holyroodhouse where four hundred guests awaited him, among them representatives of the Catholic and Anglican Churches , and politicians including members of the Scottish Parliament.
Following a brief bagpipe concert and some remarks by Queen Elizabeth, the Pope arose to pronounce his address.
“The name of Holyroodhouse”, he said, “recalls the ‘Holy Cross’ and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. … Many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike”.
Among the “many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history”, the Pope mentioned William Wilberforce and David Livingstone who worked to stop the international slave trade, Florence Nightingale who “served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare”, and John Henry Newman “whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands”, he said.
In more recent times, ” 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”. In this context the Pope also dwelt on the Nazi regime’s attitude “to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, … 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”, he added.
The Holy Father then went on to consider the key role Great Britain played sixty-five years ago “in forging the post-war international consensus which favoured the establishment of the United Nations and ushered in a hitherto unknown period of peace and prosperity in Europe “. On the subject of the Good Friday Agreement and the devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, he noted: “Your Majesty’s government and the government of Ireland , together with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland , have helped give birth to a peaceful resolution of the conflict there. I encourage everyone involved to continue to walk courageously together on the path marked out for them towards a just and lasting peace”.
And he continued his remarks: “Looking abroad, the United Kingdom remains a key figure politically and economically on the international stage. Your government and people are the shapers of ideas that still have an impact far beyond the British Isles . This places upon them a particular duty to act wisely for the common good. Similarly, because their opinions reach such a wide audience, the British media have a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights. May all Britons continue to live by the values of honesty, respect and fair-mindedness that have won them the esteem and admiration of many.
“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.
May God bless Your Majesty and all the people of your realm”.
The Pope’s address complete, Queen Elizabeth, in keeping with tradition, accompanied him to meet certain of the dignitaries present, then to the internal courtyard of the palace where he was greeted by a group of Scottish youth wearing traditional costumes.
At the end of the ceremony, the Pope bade farewell to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the main entrance to Holyroodhouse. He then travelled by car to the residence of Cardinal Michael Patrick O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh , where he had lunch.