A silver lining from World War I? Restored ties between UK, Holy See

A silver lining from World War I? Restored ties between UK, Holy See

Two soldiers standing beside a World War One tank. Credit: Manchester Archives via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Two soldiers standing beside a World War One tank. Credit: Manchester Archives via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

.- A Mass was said on Wednesday at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to mark 100 years of restored diplomatic relations between Britain and the Holy See, a relationship first broken amid the English Reformation.

The UK's ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, was present at the Dec. 3 Mass and stressed the significance of the anniversary coinciding with that of the beginning of World War I.

The reason relations were restored between the Holy See and the UK “was because of World War I,” the ambassador told CNA.

“In a sense, it seems strange to be celebrating something that came out of WWI, the great human catastrophe, a calamity for Europe in particular,” he said.

“But good things can come out of bad.”

From the time of his election in 1914, Benedict XV “worked incredibly hard to try and bring the different warring powers to the peace table,” he explained.

Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the UK were maintained during the Middle Ages until the English Reformation in the 16th century, a period marked by brutal persecution of Catholics throughout England.  

Relations were officially ruptured in 1536 following Henry VIII's establishment of the Anglican Church; they were then re-established in 1553 by Mary, a Catholic monarch who reigned only five years, only to be broken again under the reign of her half-sister, Elizabeth I.

It was not until December 1914, that the UK re-established relations, with the assigning of Henry Howard, a Catholic, to the “Special Mission to the Vatican” with the aim of engaging, Baker said, “with the Holy See on issues of peace, war, and conflict.”

Relations between the UK and the Holy See then received full recognition in 1982, marked by the official establishment of the embassy.

That year also marked “the first ever visit to Britain’s shores of a reigning Pope,” Baker said. Saint John Paul II's pastoral visit in 1982 was significant, he continued, for it “played a huge role in allowing Catholics to see themselves as a normal part of British society.”

Developments in diplomatic relations between the UK and the Holy See have continued to develop over the years, including Benedict XVI's well-received visit to the nation in 2010 for the beatification of John Henry Newman.

The beatification, Baker said brought together “Anglicans and Catholics, in a sense, in his person” because “of his Anglican past, and now as a Blessed member of the Catholic pantheon,”

Relations were further strengthened in April 2014, when Elizabeth II paid a visit to Pope Francis in the Vatican.

“She doesn’t travel much these days,” Baker said. “I think it was a sign of the importance that the kingdom places on the relationship that this is one meeting that she was very keen to have.”

April's visit, he said, “helped to cement the bonds between the papacy and the crown, and I think developed a good, personal relationship between her majesty and Pope Francis.”

In his homily at the Mass, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said, “We offer today thanksgiving for the renewed relationship of trust and respect between the Holy See and the British Crown, fostered across the length of a century.”

Over the century “the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and other Christian communities have worked together with the British Authorities” in the areas of “justice, peace and reconciliation,” he noted.

The centenary is also a time to recognize “that we have been sustained by the faith and perseverance of so many before us,” Cardinal Parolin continued. He recalled, for instance, St. Augustine of Canterbury's arrival to England 1,400 years earlier, where he discovered that “the Gospel of Christ had already taken root in Britain.”

“From that time on, the Christian message has prospered in every age, even to our own, thanks to the zeal and courage of missionaries and ministers of the Gospel,” the cardinal said.

“The need to hear and proclaim that message never diminishes, indeed our own age hungers for the consolation of God’s love, and thirsts for his truth.”

The Mass was attended by a delegation from the United Kingdom, representatives from various religious orders, as well English, Irish, and Scottish seminarians and priests from the various colleges in Rome.

Also attending the Mass was Joyce Anelay, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“I am delighted to represent Her Majesty’s Government on in this important anniversary,” she said in a press release ahead of her visit. “Relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See have developed enormously since 1914,” she said, citing Benedict XVI's 2010 visit to the UK, followed by the Queen's 2014 meeting in April as the most recent examples.

While in Rome, Anelay is taking the opportunity to meet with Vatican officials to discuss a range of issues.

“The visit is an important occasion to further strengthen the UK’s engagement with the Holy See on a range of issues of mutual concern, and to consider ways in which our networks might work more closely together, from human trafficking and freedom of religion and belief, to wider human rights issues and international development.”

Tags: Secretariat of State

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