Friday, 24 September 2010

Pope Benedict's visit to U.K.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United Kingdom from 16 to 19 September 2010 was the first state visit by a pope to the United Kingdom (Pope John Paul II made a pastoral, rather than state, visit to Great Britain in 1982). The visit was in response to an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II, with the beatification of Cardinal Newman as a "pastoral highlight". – Wikipedia

Here follow some random quotes from various sources on this controversial visit:

“Your Holiness, in recent times you have said that religions can never become vehicles of hatred. That never by invoking the name of God can evil and violence be justified …Today in this country we stand united in this conviction.” Queen Elizabeth II – Globe & Mail

“Britain should always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.” Pope Benedict XVI – Globe & Mail

“This seemed to be part of an effort to move the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the child-rape epidemic from a defensive one to an offensive position – one that was bolstered by the existence of an organized anti-religious lobby in Britain. The image of a church under siege from apostates is more appealing than one of rapist priests escaping criminal charges. But shifting the “Nazi” slur from Benedict and the church, with its troubled relationship with fascism, to the atheist opposition is a risky move.”- Globe & Mail on implications of Pope’s visit

“England today is a secularized, pluralistic country. When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country.” He was not referring to the airport’s line-ups or its public washrooms. He also spoke out against an “aggressive new atheism” that “has spread in England,” citing British Airways’ policy forbidding flight crew from wearing religious symbols”. Globe & Mail quoting Cardinal Walter Kasper on his arrival in England. (Cardinal Kasper was immediately removed from the Pope’s entourage on the British visit, despite his important role.)

“Some Hindus denounced the Pope for being offensive to atheists” – Wikipedia on Popes UK visit

“Members of Muslims Against the Crusades, led by Anjem Choudary protested against the Pope in London.” - Wikipedia on Popes UK visit

"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." Pope Benedict XVI speaking to various diplomatic corps and religious leaders Sept 17 at Westminster Hall as reported by Rome’s Zenit News.

"Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person”. - Pope Benedict XVI speaking to various diplomatic corps and religious leaders Sept 17 at Westminster Hall as reported by Rome’s Zenit News.

“A church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path.” - Pope Benedict XVI responding to reporters enroute to UK as reported by Fr. Raymond de Souza to National Post

“all this [sexual abuse cover-up] was sacrificed to spare the Church from looking bad.” Fr. de Souza to National Post

“Consider the relentless pressure on all churches to trim ancient doctrine or adapt moral teaching to something more in tune with — well, what exactly? The latest shifting sands of public opinion?” - Fr. Raymond de Souza to National Post

“What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy.” Pope Benedict speaking to school children in England as reported by Fr. Raymond de Souza in National Post

“Benedict himself is rather self-conscious about all the hoopla of a papal visit, and being in front of great crowds is onerous for him. He travels not for his own sake, but so that others may hear the Gospel”. Fr. Raymond de Souza to Catholic Register

The above quotes, in particular those voiced by Fr. Raymond de Souza prompted me to respond as follows:

Dear Fr. de Souza

I have read your articles about the Pope’s visit to the UK in the National Post as well as the Catholic Register. What is evident in both is that the Catholic Church today is quite a different church from the one I joined, as a convert in 1986. It is now an organization that has become extremely introverted while suffering from a self imposed and dangerous separation issue. A religion that sees itself as better, holier and different from the rest of the world cannot know how to or minister to- people’s constant and overwhelming pain. The message of the Gospel is not one that is to be read but one that is to be lived. The constant criticism coming from the Vatican focussed on sin rather than God’s unlimited and universal gift of unconditional love on all humankind is but one example of this church’s obvious failing.

When the Church says it cannot “trim ancient doctrine or adapt moral teaching” or “be attractive for fear of being on the wrong path.” the people are hearing “we will not accept you until you fit into our program!”. Yes, you may counter this argument by introducing all kinds of extremes, but by doing so you will miss my point and intent!

If It was clear from the beginning of this trip that the Church felt it was engaging the enemy namely ‘atheist’ (as was evident from Cardinal Kasper’s remarks) then why not approach the 'enemy' by listening to them instead of condemning them and risking losing them forever?

Only time will tell if the Pope’s visit was a success. What is evident from the visit and your biased observation is that the Church is unwilling to change in the face of a world that overwhelmingly accepts the existence of God (but not necessarily Catholicism), unwilling to accept its role and resolution in dealing with the sexual abuse scandal, unwilling to recognize people (especially young children) as holy creations of God, and unwilling to wash the feet of those it considers as ‘outsiders’. This in my opinion using the Pope’s own words is a church guilty of marginalising religion.

Jesus’ message continues to attract people through his inclusive expressions of compassion, healing, teaching, forgiving, and understanding. No religious institution can hope to ‘minister’ to those it considers the ‘enemy’. No religious institution can hope to ‘serve’ others by placing itself above and beyond those it sees as heretics, unfaithful, ungodly, etc. No religious institution should avoid or discard those who fail to meet imposed rigid standards. Jesus meets people where they are not where some others would have them be. That makes Jesus to me extremely attractive. Matthew 11:28

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