The Vatican's spokesman hopes that the Pope's visit to the U.K. will make known the positive contribution of the Christian faith to a widely "secularized" society. Touching on the delicacy of relations between Anglicans and Catholics, he also commented that meetings between the Pope and representatives of the Church of England during the trip are "very significant."
On Wednesday, the Vatican released the final schedule for Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 16-19 visit to the U.K. Accompanying the announcement was a Vatican Radio interview with Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See's spokesman.
The final program will see the Pope in Scotland on Sept. 16, when he will meet with Queen Elizabeth II and celebrate an outdoor Mass in Glasgow. Over the next two days of the trip, he will spend time meeting with religious leaders, the faithful and representatives of civil society in a series of gatherings and celebrations in London, England.
The concluding event of what Fr. Lombardi called a "very rich, intense (and) articulate" program will be on Sept. 19 in Birmingham. In what is by all accounts the culminating moment of the trip, the Holy Father will preside over the beatification ceremony of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Recalling the major events during the visit, the Vatican spokesman said that the meetings with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the ecumenical celebration with the Anglican Church on Sept. 17 have a "great significance."
He called the current climate in the Church of England "a delicate moment for Anglicanism" because of the "internal debates." Those discussions include whether or not women should be ordained bishops and the importance accorded to biblical teachings within the church.
Since the Vatican offered Anglicans that possibility to enter into communion with the Catholic Church under a provision creating a special ordinariate, some English Anglicans, including bishops, have been seriously considering converting to Catholicism. The Anglican Communion's recent approval of the ordination of women bishops at their synod in York, England has further aggravated tensions within the Church.
Fr. Lombardi said in Wednesday's interview with Vatican Radio that this is also a "delicate moment for relations with the Catholic Church, because the internal debates reflect on the relations between Anglicans and Catholics."
Turning to the overall aim for the September visit, he said that it is hoped the Pope's presence will serve to "present the service of the Christian faith and the service of the Catholic Church to a very developed, but also very secularized society, like that of the United Kingdom ... where perhaps also many people ask themselves about the value of the Christian and Catholic witness in society."
Reminded of the positive reaction experienced during previous apostolic journeys made this year (Malta, Cyprus and Portugal), the Vatican spokesman said, "We hope that also this trip might be truly a manifestation of the beauty, of the positiveness of the service of the Holy Father in society ...
"The hope (is) to be able to effectively represent the fundamental, positive side which the Church gives to a society of today - a modern, pluralistic, let's even say secularized, society - so it will not forget, but rather it will know how to appreciate in a knew way the positive contribution that the faith offers."