NOW IT has happened and can be seen as a complete event, we are all asking what we have made of the Holy Father's historic visit to Britain.
In the first place, why did he come?
There are two reasons which loomed large at the outset and which have since been forgotten. He was invited to come by Archbishop Runcie on 9th May 1980 in Ghana, not initially by the Catholic bishops who later took up the running, and that those Catholic bishops invited him to "come and see" in the wake of the highly successful National Pastoral Congress of that same Day, which was hardly whispered in the ultimate visit even when the papal entourage found itself in Liverpool where the Congress found its being.
What then did the visit turn out to be? In the words of Cardinal Hume, "a festival of friendship"; and in the words of Archbishop Murphy of Cardiff, "a humble pilgrimage, not of pride of power. but of love".
It was. as an editorial writer put it, "not urgent, nor evangelical, nor political or triumphalistic-; that is, not offensive nor insistent, but gentle, evocative and appealingly persuasive.
The Pope in Ireland has well deployed his athletic vitality and his valiant tendency to champion principle in those days before his being shot and made to suffer; whereas now he came to a more complex scene more subtly, more ingratiatingly (without ever coming off the high ground of principle), more calling upon reserves deeper than mere vitality, which has ebbed, to plumb new levels of spiritual concern. He seemed to care for others more; he appealed to them and not merely to the safety of tried dogma. Drawing on a basis strongly orientated to scripture and biblical theology. he built up his appeal from the central tenets of Christianity as they had evolved from the outset — and so he offered a gift to Protestant and Catholic alike, more freely given.
In so doing, the Holy Father seemed perhaps more closely briefed over a longer period by the pastors of his host country, than on former occasions.
He seemed to realise that he had come to a Church situation where for a long time an internal ecumenism had done its work, an ecclesial pluralism had nurtured fruitful diversity. and a habit of mind and life had commended orchestration of offerings rather than uniformity.
For instance, at the York Knavesmire gathering he picked up a phrase familiar from the National Pastoral Congress, "the family is a community of love and life-, and extolled the freedom which that offered within the
bond that is never to be broken.
It was the Holy Father's ecumenical openness that remains in the mind as most remarkable. He always stressed the positive aspect of matters; the good of peace, not the condemnation of war; the need to ever to be open to life's sanctity, not the condemnation of abortion; the positive aspects of family life today, not the condemnation of contraceptives.
In Canterbury, he allowed his host, Archbishop Robert Runcie, to take the leading part: he stood beside him equal as the Pope-mobiie made is progress; the Pope eschewed staff of mitre, while the Archbishop carried both; and he let the liturgical initiative fall to his host, awaiting the offer to join or respond.
Nationalism and spiritual values
I WAS once sent an offprint by Dom David Knowles (he kindly did that from time to time) of an article he had written in the February 1969 History on the improbable title, "Denifle & Ehrle".
Reading it, I was struck by one thing about those two great Vatican scholars: they remained very much of their nationality, the Dominican friar Tyrolean and the German Jesuit a man of Munich, who when the great war came felt it necessary to desert his post as prefect of the Vatican Library and return to his own country for the duration — at such a momentous time in his life work.
Despite the tradition that when one takes up the priesthood and the religious life, one dies to the world to rise to the work of Christ, the call of nationality in war time was too strong.
these last days, when the see-saw of decision has wavered as the papal nuncio in Argentina attempted to dissuade the Pope from his pastoral and wholly nonpolitical visit to Britain.
The prelates of the English and Scottish churches flew to Rome, there to persuade the Pope that the Church should be above politics, and if anything his ministrations were needed more rather than less in a country grieving for its own dead and the dead of its opponent.
It was consonant with our age that the idea should soon emerge that the two Cardinals of Argentina should be invited to Rome to join the Pope in his Mass for reconciliation said also with the hierarchy of Britain, the prelates of the two belligerent countries exchanging the kiss of peace before they jointly prayed for an end to all the bloodshed.
PENNING this Charterhouse, my mind returns to Patrick O'Donovan of blessed memory (who died last December).
I first met him in Korea, when he was covering our front as a war correspondent, back into his Irish Guards service dress cap, but with that global sun of correspondents set in it in place of the Guards capbadge.
He was relatively new to writing then, as 1 have since discovered: he took it up only after the War, prompted by his habit of sending home graphic accounts of his Normandy to the Baltic experiences in long lurid letters. Until then, he had thought of himself as a man of spoken words.
At Ampleforth in the midthirties, he overtook Hugh Fraser as the best debater of his year and the one ahead of him. There is a legendary comment from our Senior History Master, "Not a scholar, but might make a good journalist", which nobody then heeded.
O'Donovan of Harley Street had been a pillar of the Catholic Evidence Guild and had for a while been Conservative MP for the Mile End Road (which sounds rather improbable).
On one occasion the old doctor had spoken to the Ampleforth Debating Society, drawing a record attendance, upon the theme: "As Catholics, it is our vocation to permeate public life with Christian principles and so preserve civilisation from decay." That he achieved himself well enough; but his son, with rather less of a programme, achieved it better, perhaps.
We are told of the schoolboy Patrick that, "sometimes overshadowed by Mr Fraser's theatrical performances, he appears convinced that he is a martyr to the cause of charity and peace; and when he is not appreciated by the House, he considers himself only the more virtuous.
After a crucial Oxford Union performance in May 1939, it was related in in's: "He is the best speaker the Union has had for several years. His arguments are scarcely novel, but the evening waits on eloquence — and of this he proved himself master. His speech, for sheer eloquence, received the greatest applause of the evening.
Patrick was .elected Treasurer for the Michaelmas Term oi 1939 in that Union; but against the names of all four senior officers for that Term is an asterisk referring to those ominous words: "elected, but did not hold office owing to war service".
He did n fact lead the irst debate of that term, opposing the motion: "NM Government should make a detailed statement of its war aims-, being confronted on the other bench by Nicholas Henderson, who is now a knight and our Ambassador in Washington, and one of the chief architects of our endeavours to draw the Falklands Islands issu.e to a civilised close; and who was later to recommend Patrick to The Observer, where he made his main life's contribution.
Those happy days of speech were terminated by the toxin of war, tolling to call out our young. Perhaps a word on Patrick the soldier might not be out of place next time.
To the sturdy oak of unity
WHAT THE Holy Father wore at Canterbury was a stole that had cost £1,000 to produce, done with pure Japanese gold threads by the chief embroideress of Watts Ltd: it was made of red silk damask lined with silk taffeta.
On it the cross of Canterbury and the papal arms had been linked by rays emanating from the form of a dove.
The gift had been commissioned by Rev Peter Geldard, General Secretary of the high Anglican Church Union. who had been a delegate to the Eucharistic Congress at Lourdes in July of 1981. There, on behalf of the Church Union, he had made his symbolic ecumenical gesture 'as an expression of our hopes of the Pope's forthcoming visit to Britain. We hope that he might
feel able-to weal the stole at some time during his visit, most appropriately on his pilgrimage to Canterbury,
And that is what happened: the stole was presented to Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, in Lourdes — and it was then brought back to Britain for the papal visit to Canterbury.
The theme of the design on the stole is "unity-. The enbroideress, Mrs Dilys Simpson, had taken the projected stole with her to make up, when she went to spend some time in Burrswood, like Lourdes a place of healing.
There she met a young Russian woman dying of cancer, of the same virus that Dilys Simpson had had two years before, and from which she had recovered.
While she was at Burrswood, the Russian girl was received into the Church, baptised and confirmed, settling soon to a peaceful death, healed in her heart.
And so the symbol of Burrswood, a golden acorn. was embroidered concealed beneath the dove in the neck of the stole. The idea of healing and the idea of return to unity are one.
Daniel Counihan is on holiday.