Monday, September 13, 2010

Across the Pond, "Our Moment Has Come"

Popemobiles (plural) on the ground? Check.

Setup underway? Check.

Inflammatory documentaries
airing on television? Check.

In a word, ready or not, here he comes. And in its typically diverse ways, Britain's Catholic press has begun rolling out the welcome mat for B16 in advance of his Thursday arrival in Edinburgh.

During his February ad limina speech to the bishops of England and Wales, the pontiff might've expressed the pointed sentiment that "if the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice." Still, the UK's ecclesial conversation is led by two outlets of divergent emphases: on the progressive side, the venerable Tablet, the house-organ of the English church Establishment, founded in 1840 (and still Anglophone Catholicism's closest thing to a global journal of record), countered by the more tradition-inclined and colourful Catholic Herald, its roots dating to 1888, but whose reach has amplified exponentially over recent years given its creation of a standout, cross-platform online product.

(Full disclosure: this scribe was The Tablet's US Correspondent from 2005-2008, and was very kindly profiled by The Herald's eminent Anna Arco last year. Long story short, folks at both papers have been and remain wonderful friends, and these pages think the world of 'em all.)

Anyways, the twin titans of the British church-press have weighed in on this week's pilgrimage with their "leaders" -- the editorials that express the paper's mind (and, unlike in American journalism, show the leaning of its coverage). To help the wider audience glean how this week is being viewed by both at its outset, here below are the weeklies' respective setup pieces....

First, the leader from Saturday's Tablet...
A friend, and even a guide

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose his title of Benedict XVI upon his election as Pope in 2005, it was widely seen as imparting a distinctly European mission to his papacy. St Benedict is the patron saint of Europe, the cradle of the Catholic faith. But Benedict XVI is a highly complex man, and this is a highly complex mission – and modern secular Europe is a highly complex phenomenon. His critics seem to think they have to defend secular society from him; if they knew him better, they would see that he wants to defend secular society from itself. That makes him a potential ally. So he comes to Britain for an ­historic state visit next week as a friend, not an adversary.

Whether leaders of the secularist Protest the Pope movement who met Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark on Wednesday understood any of this remains to be seen. The Church would do well to remember, however, that in the candid words of John Courtney Murray SJ, principal architect of the Declaration on Religious Liberty of the Second Vatican Council, “the Church – that is, the hierarchy and the Holy See – did nothing to advance the struggle for the political rights of man in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” The Catholic Church’s secularist critics may feel they have grounds to be suspicious.

The themes of Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict’s encyclical published last year, are likely to lie behind many of his public addresses next week. The teaching document sought to unravel the tensions, contradictions and omissions that are beginning to threaten the success, sustainability and almost the survival of the modern European secular project. Even that project’s keenest advocates would admit it is not an experiment that is guaranteed success. Society is threatened with fragmentation not just between rival groups and interests but by an ideology of individualism, especially in the economic sphere. The overwhelming message of Caritas in Veritate is one of goodwill towards modern democratic society, a fervent wish for it to work better and free itself from its demons – demons, incidentally, that are as visible to secular commentators as they are to the Pope. The economic crisis that started with banking collapses in 2008, for instance, points to flaws not only in financial regulations but also in the whole ethos within which business is conducted. Caritas in Veritate contains one of the most eloquent pieces of analysis of this crisis that has appeared anywhere. That is testimony to the Pope’s desire to help society to work.

In a society like modern Britain, however, the Pope’s influence can rarely be direct. If Catholic teaching in favour of human dignity and the common good is ever to penetrate to the grass roots of British society, it will be largely through the agency of Catholic lay people and those who share their values. As The Tablet’s list of the 100 most influential lay Catholics, published in this edition, shows, they are well spread in British society and many are at the peak of their professions. These are not individuals the Pope can control.

One of the more unfortunate examples of negative aspects of the Catholic Church that critics of the Pope will have in mind is the persistent pattern of interference by church leaders in the democratic process, especially in the United States. The Catholic Church in Britain has the advantage of knowing that it can never succeed by force of numbers, nor by calling for blind obedience from Catholic politicians or electors, but only by the power of its argument – and among those needing to be persuaded are of course the Catholic laity themselves. Thus are the rays of the Magisterium filtered through the lens of the sensus fidelium before they can be brought to bear on the moral issues of the day. Thus the dialogue with secularism that the Pope wants to advance by his visit is already in being, and the local Church’s job afterwards will be to take it further. Pope Benedict will want to encourage Britain to work towards a healthier secular society; and Britain can begin to show the Pope how it might be done in practice.
...and from the current Herald, a much shorter, sweeter word of welcome:
Let’s show the world that faith is alive and well in Britain
Let’s fill the streets and greet the Pontiff with cries of support

By the time our next issue arrives in parishes, the Popemobile will be threading its way across London. On the evening of Friday, September 17, Benedict XVI will ride from Lambeth Palace to Westminster Hall via Lambeth Bridge and along Millbank, on the north side of the Thames. The following evening, the Popemobile will take the Holy Father to the Hyde Park prayer vigil, past Buckingham Palace and through some of central London’s most famous streets. The Popemobile will have had its first outing in Edinburgh a day earlier, when it travels from Holyrood Palace along Abbeyhill, Regent Road, Princes Street, Lothian Road, Tollcross and Morningside to Cardinal O’Brien’s official residence.

The reception that Pope Benedict receives as he drives through our streets will tell us much about our society. If the faithful fill the streets and greet the Pontiff with applause and cries of support then the watching world will see that the faith of those who gave up their lives hundreds of years ago is alive and well in Britain. It is easy to fall into the trap of blaming others for the difficulties of the Church. But we will only have ourselves to blame if the Popemobile speeds through thin crowds next week.

We are confident that this will not be the case. We believe that, despite all the mishaps and difficulties along the way, Britain’s Catholics will rise to the occasion of the papal visit and give Benedict XVI the warm welcome he deserves.
Whatever one's leanings, both papers have rolled out PopeTrip portal sites featuring their months' worth of lead-up coverage, with ongoing updates slated to be filed throughout the week.

* * *
And speaking of editorials, the UK trip provided the topic for the weekly Vatican Radio reflection of the broadcaster's chief, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, likewise the director of the Holy See Press Office:
Christian faith and British spirit

Thursday, September 16th the Pope will fly to Edinburgh where he will begin, after being officially welcomed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, one of the most highly anticipated trips of his pontificate, his visit to the UK.

Last Wednesday, the Pope expressed his gratitude for the invitation, because he is well aware of the commitment and attention with which not only Her Majesty and the Government, but also the Anglican Primate – the Archbishop of Canterbury - and of course the whole Catholic Church of England, Wales and Scotland, are preparing the several appointments on the program.

The expectation and interest of British society is also growing, well beyond some noisy, but still marginal, protests of dissent. This confirms the perception that indeed the great moral and religious authority of the Pope will be able to offer an important specific, clear, positive and constructive contribution to meeting the challenges of today's world. Without doubt, the Pope's meeting with the most qualified representatives of institutions and civil society in the historic Westminster Hall will be one of the highlights of the trip.

But only in the beatification of Cardinal Newman will the message of this visit achieve its full meaning. This Englishman, whom the Pope has called "truly great" rich in “gentle wisdom" and an example of "integrity and sanctity of life", who with his writings and his works is a source of inspiration for the Church and society in many parts of the world, embodies in the most convincing way the fascinating fruit of the profound synthesis between the Christian faith and the British spirit and its permanent fecundity for the world of today and tomorrow.