In remarks to a journalist on the Holy Father's upcoming visit to the U.K., Archbishop Vincent Nichols of the Diocese of Westminster urged the Catholic faithful to “get behind the Pope and support him.”
The archbishop also discussed the upcoming beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman during the Pope's trip in September and underlined the significance of his Holiness meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.
Archbishop Nichols spoke to Anna Arco, a prominent local journalist who's blog is associated with the U.K.'s Catholic Herald.
During his remarks, the prelate emphasized the “historic” aspect of the Pope's visit, and the significance of the Pontiff being officially greeted by the country's monarch. This, he claimed, should quell the idea by some that England is anti-Catholic.
“I think the historic nature of the Pope visiting this country as a state visit is quite astonishing,” Archbishop Nichols asserted. “It’s obviously the first time in history at the opening of the visit to see the Queen and the Pope together. The Queen is the first person to welcome him to this country.”
“I hope that many of our easy assumptions will be a little bit shaken, that somehow there is an intense antagonism to Catholicism in this country.”
“That is not what the picture will show,” he stressed. “The picture will show a monarch who is held in huge esteem by everybody making sure that this Pope, the Bishop of Rome is warmly welcomed into this society. I think that is so important that nobody should underestimate it.”
“From a Catholic view,” he added, “I think what is most important is that we understand the delicacy of the mission the Pope has taken on in coming to address British society with the gift of Christian faith.”
“Because we are very aware of the delicacy of the moment of strong voices raised in opposition for any role for religious faith in our society and here is the Pope who is such an eloquent exponent of the gift of faith coming right into the midst of this multi-faith, multicultural, complex, at times aggressively secular, society.”
“So Catholics, really, I invite them to get behind the Pope and support him,” the archbishop urged. “There are many ways of doing this, with prayer, through the financial contributions that have already been made and of course if its possible to get to see the Pope personally in some of the big events.”
Discussing the beatification of Cardinal Newman, the prelate was asked by Arco why he is focusing in particular on the late theologian's pastoral work above other things.
“Cardinal Newman is a rich and quite complex character,” he explained. “I think he is well known in some circles as an academic. He is known in some circles as a poet and a man of culture. But there is a strand of pastoral care that runs consistently through his life and it started when he was a young tutor in Oxford and he saw the purpose of education was to care for the whole person and not simply be the acquisition of knowledge.”
“And that underlying gold thread of pastoral care is, I think, not often enough focused upon.”
“And considering that we are just ending the Year for Priests,” the prelate noted, “I think it’s a remarkable grace that it is an English parish priest should be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI and I wouldn’t want that dimension of Newman to be forgotten or overlooked.”
On the visit as a whole, Archbishop Nichols said that what he hopes for “is that the gentleness and the readiness to engage in dialogue that is so characteristic of Pope Benedict will come across.”
“And in this I think television coverage will help a great deal because here is a man who is most impressive when you sit down and talk to him face to face,” he said.
“One of the great advantages of television is that it brings the face close to us and I think with that help, People will see the utter integrity of this man who is at peace in his faith, not afraid of difficult questions, not afraid of difficult challenges and will engage with us in a way that I think will be a significant contribution to our shared life.”