The Holy Father's September visit "speaks of rapprochement" - that is, cordial relations - between the Vatican and the United Kingdom, explained the nation's ambassador to Holy See. Speaking to CNA, he said that the "principal symbolic moment" on the schedule of events, even for the state, is the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham.
U.K. ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Francis Campbell, is employed by the Foreign Office, which, he explained, "acts as a bridge" between the British prime minister's office at Whitehall, the Holy See and its nunciature. Campbell's office ensures that the government is up-to-date on the Holy See's positions on important issues, which at the moment includes providing advice for drafting speeches and developing themes for the pending trip.
In the state's perspective, the Sept. 16-19 appointment is "a visit to the Church and to wider society," observed the ambassador. "This is our oldest diplomatic relationship," he said, recalling that state-to-state relations go back to the year 1479 when the papal envoy was sent by the British monarchy.
"It hasn't always been an easy relationship," he said, "and here is the Pope coming on a state visit as a guest of the Queen and there are some very poignant moments in that visit that speak of rapprochement, that don't say anything, but speak to it."
Ambassador Campbell cited an example of this in Pope Benedict's speech to 1,800 members of civil society in Westminster Hall, "the very same Hall where Thomas More was condemned to death."
In 1532, St. Thomas More resigned from his post as the Lord's Chancellor, unwilling to sign the the Act of Supremacy, in which the Henry VIII was to be recognized as the head of the church of England. He was put in jail and later condemned to death for high treason, professing his belief during the trial in the indissolubility of marriage, the supremacy of the pope, and the inviolable freedom of the Church in her relation with the state.
The fact that the Pope will be speaking in the venue where More was convicted "says an immense amount about how far we have come in Britain, where within the United Kingdom you can look back at what was a divisive event at the time, but you can look back with a shared perspective."
He brought up other elements of importance to the state in the Catholic Church's contribution to education, British society, and the provision of care of the elderly. "These are all facets to the life of Britain and to pluralism that Britain now is," he underscored.
Taking a look at the Pope's rigorous schedule, Campbell said that the meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at her summer residence in Edinburgh is a highlight. "Here you have an 83-year old Pope meeting an 84-year old monarch.
"When you just think of what they have been through, what they have seen and the fact that they're in these two world leadership positions, I think that's a very interesting moment."
The following day, there is "a very interesting sequence" of events that stands out on the agenda, according to the ambassador. Pope Benedict will visit Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace and, just after, meet with senior Catholic and Anglican bishops. The address to civil society at Westminster Hall and then the celebration of the evening prayer at Westminster Abbey with Archbishop Williams will follow.
Mr. Campbell underscored that Benedict XVI will be the first Pope to enter Lambeth Palace and also Westminster Abbey, which formerly belonged to the Benedictines. "So that sequence on that Friday afternoon from Lambeth Palace to the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Abbey, ... when you think of the history, and you think of English history, what the Pope is walking through on that journey ... is very poignant and harbors a very significant ecumenical message."
But, he went on, "the principal symbolic moment will come on the Sunday when the Pope will beatify Cardinal Newman."
The fact that Benedict XVI has chosen to preside over the ceremony himself in Birmingham and that John Henry Newman is "a Catholic figure, an Anglican figure, an English figure, (and) a universal figure" lend importance to the occasion, he said.
Newman's contributions to the the idea of what a university is, his teaching on conscience and it's role in the modern mindset and his concept that Christian doctrine is dynamic and alive, pointed out the ambassador, make him a "universal figure, this figure beyond a single culture."
Campbell concluded, "He really played a very big role in Britain and Ireland in the 19th century and as such has a place and has a role in the history of our country."