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.