Saturday, September 25, 2010

"The Kindly Light"

Its words and images becoming only more vivid with time, a week on since a memorable PopeTrip, one thing worth noting in its wake is the degree to which B16's immersion in all things Newman to prep for his UK tour went considerably deeper than most probably noticed.

For just one keen example, recall what's become a much-cited passage from the pontiff's pre-arrival press conference...
Q.: [D]uring the preparation for this journey there have been contrary discussions and positions. The country has a past tradition of a strong anti-Catholic position. Are you concerned about how you will be received?

Benedict: ...I must say that I'm not worried, because when I went to France I was told: "This will be a most anticlerical country with strong anticlerical currents and with a minimum of faithful." When I went to the Czech Republic it was said: "This is the most non-religious country in Europe and even the most anti-clerical". So Western countries, all have, each in their own specific way, according to their own history, strong anticlerical or anti-Catholic currents, but they always also have a strong presence of faith. So in France and the Czech Republic I saw and experienced a warm welcome by the Catholic community, a strong attention from agnostics, who, however, are searching, who want to know, to find the values that advance humanity and they were very careful to see if they could hear something from me in this respect, and tolerance and respect for those who are anti-Catholic. Of course Britain has its own history of anti-Catholicism, this is obvious, but is also a country with a great history of tolerance. And so I'm sure on the one hand, there will be a positive reception from Catholics, from believers in general, and attention from those who seek as we move forward in our time, mutual respect and tolerance. Where there is anti-Catholicism I will go forward with great courage and joy.
...and stack it up against the closing passage from Newman's famous "Biglietto Speech," delivered in Rome on the eve of his 1879 elevation to the College of Cardinals:
Such is the state of things in England, and it is well that it should be realised by all of us; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it. I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth. Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.
Coincidence? Odds are, not so much.

Meanwhile, the weekly English edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has reproduced a lead editorial on the visit by its chief, Gian Maria Vian, which originally ran in its Italian editions on the Pope's return to Rome.

Titled "The Kindly Light," here's the wrap-line of the "papal paper":

A Church which sought to be attractive in the eyes of the world would be on the wrong track because her duty is to make Christ's light shine out. Christians of the East call it "joyful" (phòs hilaròn) in Evening Prayer and John Henry Newman was aware of it and described it as a "kindly" light, imploring it to guide him.

In this light as in fact the Pope predicted to journalists on the flight to Scotland Benedict XVI's British Visit was a great success. This was recognized and reported by many of the media, especially in the United Kingdom; but that is not all, getting the better of the prejudicial prognosis that predicted difficult days, as well as of the distortion of information that also aimed at dimming the Visit's importance.

The about-turn of people's expectations which was evident in the welcome and attention of those who saw and listened to the Pontiff in these days should be specifically attributed to the way Benedict XVI came across with simplicity and openness on this Visit.

It was immediately clear in his face and in his words, which followed in the wake of that tradition of gentle scholarship born in the Middle Ages and that extends to Newman.

It was thanks to the broadmindedness of the media in this great country marked by what, today, has become a multi-ethnic society in relaying his gestures and words on a perfectly organized Journey, that multitudes were able see Pope Benedict speaking to elderly people and conversing with them, "as a brother above all". They saw him gently caressing children just as on his last day, on leaving the Nunciature, he caressed a blind child in the arms of his mother who, moved to tears, could not stop thanking him and adoring the Blessed Sacrament in the impressive silence of the 80,000 young people who had gathered for the Vigil a few hours before Cardinal Newman's beatification.

Indeed the tenderness Benedict XVI shows to the little and the weak explains his powerful words renewed and repeated in the face of the crimes of the abuse of minors by members of the clergy and his meeting with some of the victims and with a group that works for the protection of children.

The British Episcopate, which collaborates with the civil authorities, is exemplary in this regard, in line with the age-old tradition of the care and education of young people which, in the past, was undeniably to the credit of the Catholic Church and her many institutions in every part of the world.

In brief, this was a historic journey. It was marked by the official and cordial Visit to Elizabeth II, a universally esteemed Sovereign, by the solemn meeting with the civil authorities in Westminster Hall (where the Pope paid tribute to the institution of the British Parliament), and by conversations with several political leaders and with Prime Minister David Cameron, who in his farewell address emphasized the positive contribution of religion to the public debate.

At the end of a State Visit which also because of the friendship with Archbishop Rowan Williams proved very important for the development of relations with the Anglicans, with representatives of other Christian denominations and with other religions. And above all Benedict XVI made the Visit shine with the kindly light that leads every human person, just as it led Newman.
Speaking of beatifications -- and, indeed "lights" -- today in Rome sees a particularly poignant one as Chiara "Luce" Badano is raised to the honors of the altar.

A member of the Focolare movement and protege of its recently-departed foundress Chiara Lubich, the new blessed -- celebrated as a "modern teen" -- died at 18 in 1991 after a brief battle with bone cancer.

To be held at Focolare's base in the Eternal City, the rites will be led by the Vatican's lead saintmaker, Archbishop Angelo Amato.

PHOTO: Getty