Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Pope in the UK day 2: On secularism, multiculturalism and protestantism

Pope Benedict seems to have three key themes for this UK trip: the challenges presented by secularism, multiculturalism, and protestantism.

On secularism

The Pope launched his first broadside against secularism on his arrival in his speech of reply to the Queen when he pointed to the effects of  the exclusion of God from society taken to its logical extreme, drawing the analogy with Nazism:

"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)."

 At Westminster Hall (photo  AP), he took this theme up again, saying that:

"In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

On multiculturalism

It is no secret that the Pope opposes multiculturalism, considering it a political and cultural impossibility.  Britain, however, as he acknowledged, "strives to be a modern and multicultural society" - no wonder then he described this as a "challenging enterprise" (ie in the yes Minister sense of the term) in his remarks in reply to the Queen.   The surrounding culture, he pointed out, "is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment".

His approach then has been to repeatedly stress the value and continuing importance of Great Britain's Christian, and indeed Catholic, roots, going back to those Benedictine missionaries dispatched by Pope St Gregory the Great, and to stress the need for the 'evangelization of the culture'.

He makes the point that the exploration of other religious traditions, whatever its potential benefits, must not be subordinated to the promotion of the Christian message:

"At the same time, we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ, and to explore together a deeper understanding of the means he has placed at our disposal for attaining that salvation. God “wants all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and that truth is nothing other than Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the Father, who has reconciled all things in himself by the power of his Cross. In fidelity to the Lord’s will, as expressed in that passage from Saint Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, we recognize that the Church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth."

Oh and on which threat is the more dangerous?  While the secularists threatened (without any possibility of effecting it) to arrest the Pope, UK police have arrested six suspected Islamic terrorists in what seems to have been a credible threat to assassinate the Pope.

On protestantism

There were protests (photo from AP):

And it is no secret that ecumenism viz-a-viz the Anglicans is not going well, as the Pope pointed out at his talk at Westminster Abbey:

"Dear friends, we are all aware of the challenges, the blessings, the disappointments and the signs of hope which have marked our ecumenical journey. Tonight we entrust all of these to the Lord, confident in his providence and the power of his grace. We know that the friendships we have forged, the dialogue which we have begun and the hope which guides us will provide strength and direction as we persevere on our common journey. At the same time, with evangelical realism, we must also recognize the challenges which confront us, not only along the path of Christian unity, but also in our task of proclaiming Christ in our day. Fidelity to the word of God, precisely because it is a true word, demands of us an obedience which leads us together to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s will, an obedience which must be free of intellectual conformism or facile accommodation to the spirit of the age. This is the word of encouragement which I wish to leave with you this evening, and I do so in fidelity to my ministry as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Saint Peter, charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ’s flock."

The Pope in Westminster Abbey as he actually was:

The Pope in Westminster Abbey as we might have liked to have seen him (courtesy of Vincenzo's photoshopping efforts of Reuter's original):

Still, it was a wonderful step forward, and great symbolism, to see the Pope in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, and talking about the witness to Christ of St Thomas More, that premier rebel against protestantism, to politicians and others in Westminster Hall.  No doubt there will be more on Anglicanism in the context of the canonization of Cardinal Newman...

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