“Pope Benedict XVI came, saw and conquered,” Cardinal Keith P. O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh said on the first anniversary of the papal visit to the U.K.
“That call must echo in our own minds as we go forward evermore confidently living the Christian message in our country and endeavoring to hand on the love of Jesus Christ as effectively as we can to the other peoples in Scotland, and indeed throughout the world,” Cardinal O’Brien told CNA on Sept. 16.
Despite prior predictions of doom and disinterest, Pope Benedict’s visit to Scotland and England is now widely accepted as one of the high points of his six-year pontificate.
It began in Edinburgh, Scotland where he was cheered through the capital’s historic streets by a crowd of 125,000 and concluded four days later in Birmingham, England with the beatification of the 19th century Anglican convert Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Cardinal O’Brien said his own happiest memories stemmed from the first day of the visit when he accompanied Pope Benedict to his meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Holyroodhouse.
“It was with pride that we witnessed Her Majesty the Queen and His Holiness the Pope speaking in the most friendliest of terms of their respective views of our country and the necessary place of religious in our society,” he said.
Cardinal O’Brien also spoke with great pride of being able to escort Pope Benedict through the streets of the Scottish capital on Sept. 16 last year, the feast day of St. Ninian – who is Scotland’s first saint.
“It was a privilege for me being with Our Holy Father on that popemobile along the great length of Princes Street,” said Cardinal O’Brien.
He recalled how they were “led by that magnificent pageant of the history of Scotland, the children from all of the St. Ninian’s schools in Scotland, listening to pipe bands from all over our country, and with the Pope so graciously wearing the St. Ninian’s Day tartan scarf which I had placed around his neck in the popemobile.”
In fact, it was later revealed that Cardinal O’Brien smuggled the papal scarf into the royal reception, tucking it inside his cassock.
In the intervening days, the people of the United Kingdom watched and listened as, among other events, Pope Benedict addressed civil society in Westminster Hall – the scene of St. Thomas More’s trial in 1535 – on the relationship of faith and reason. The Pope also met with young people at St. Mary’s College in London, challenging them to become the “saints of the 21st century.”
Cardinal O’Brien says that, one year later, the Pope’s visit is still paying dividends to the Church in the U.K.
“He showed us something of the human face, not only of himself as Pope, but of our whole Church itself,” said Cardinal O’Brien. “Of course we must continue to be the better of that visit through an ongoing study of the teachings of our Pope while he was with us.”
And he has no doubt as to what is the message that has had most resonance over the past 12 months.
Proof of that resonance was given by the fact that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement for the anniversary. He stated that the “Pope's message is just as relevant today” as he highlighted the need for Britons “build a new culture of social responsibility and develop strong powerful communities as we deal with tough economic challenges.”
In Cardinal O’Brien’s view, the message of Pope Benedict’s that was most strongly delivered and warmly received was his call to “‘be a saint!’”