Monday, 20 September 2010

How was it for you?

Well, the Pope’s visit is over, the crowds, placards and Papal tack have been cleared away, but whether his message will endure to have a lasting impact on British society remains to be seen. Did heart truly speak to heart?
There is no one definitive experience of the Papal visit, but many. For some it will have hardened feelings of anger and outrage, or confirmed their view of the superstition and adulation involved, for others, not only Catholics but other Christians, the visit has been a source of hope and inspiration, of spiritual guidance and encouragement much needed in a society where some feel Christianity is marginalised and derided.
What of the response of that society, the one which the Pope sees as “aggressively secular”, but Cameron sees as having faith woven into its fabric? Will the UK really “sit up and think” about whether faith is a “gift to be cherished rather than a problem to be overcome?”
I, for one, am hopeful that it will. It seemed to me that there was an awareness in the coverage of the potential of faith as a positive force for good. The first four pages of my Sunday paper were devoted to the Pope’s visit, and, although many articles dealt with protest and scandals, the overriding images were of celebration, exhilaration, devotion, awe, reverence. The spectacle of thousands attending the mass in Hyde Park, of young Catholics engrossed or attentive, of people unified by common bonds, of a child waving a flag held high, were all embodiments of heart speaking to heart. Faith, which is sometimes rather hidden away in our homes and churches, was out there, visible and on display.
Organised religion often fails to have a human face. Injustice, oppression, cruelty, atrocity can quite justifiably be laid at its door. Yet, at its best, religious faith nurtures our humanity, teaches us the infinite value of ourselves and others and inspires us to service. The best of religious faith should involve the intellect; it should connect the heart, soul and mind in an impulse towards God and towards each other.
I hope that the enduring message of the Papal visit will be that heart can speak unto heart. God inhabits our hearts much more than he inhabits church-as-institution, and it is his ability to transform human hearts that makes faith a gift to be cherished.


  1. I would not have thought it possible to have so many hours of media coverage in which I heard not a single mention of Jesus. Lots of 'God', lots of 'Church', and lots of flags waving and near-apologies, but Jesus didn't seem to feature (except for the statues of him still nailed to the cross), which I think is unfortunate. If we believe that there is no other name by which we can be saved, it is unfortunate (to put it mildly) that such a golden opportunity was not seized.

  2. The Pope’s visit and the ideological and historical tussles around it says more about the way we conceive the world and the manner in which it is defined and redefined to suit the needs of the present. A good example is the debate the sexual abuse of children. The present arguments presume that it is the Roman Catholic Church that has sought to quash all discussion of the subject and silence the voice of victims. Yes, this happened, but care is needed in reducing the debate to nothing more than an error on the part of the Church. Until a decade or so ago, the voice of the victims of child abuse was difficult to hear in ANY sector of society. Children were not believed by the authorities and by wider society. Now it is painted as the Church’s error – it was actually the error of our whole society and its disbelief that children could be sexually abused by people in a position of power.

    I think this says something about how we construct the ‘present’. We have a habit of forgetting the past; or more truthfully retelling the past to suit the needs of the present. The same mistake occurs with regard to the ‘secularism vs. religion’ debate. There is a widely held belief, particularly on the part of those with a religious inclination, that ‘secularism’ is a terrible enemy and that ‘faith’ and belief will make for a better society. Yet, as I keep boring people by saying, when the churches were fuller and Bible better known in the days of the pre-welfare state, society was NOT utopian – far from it. Indeed, our modern, secular society is far, far more egalitarian, caring, fairer and equitable than when religion was in a position of considerable social power. Hence care is needed when harping on about the Pope’s message; it seems evident to me that the Pope is, like many of our religiously inclined brethren, creating a past that never existed... But isn’t that the role of religion or any ideology?

  3. I have to say, the earth didn't move.

  4. To be fair, Peter B, the Pope did mention Jesus quite a lot. At least he does in this speech to young Catholics,

    "There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us to pray for vocations: I pray that many of you will know and love Jesus Christ and, through that encounter, will dedicate yourselves completely to God"

    I don't think you would argue with any of the above?

  5. Poppy - I would guess not ;)