Reflections on Papal Visit

Pope Benedictus XVIImage via Wikipedia
After all the withering discussion on the cost of the visit from some quarters, the fact that the visit was overshadowed by despair on the dark events of sexual abuse, fear of protests and attacks on the Pope, continuing division and conflict over the still closed doors on discussion of the rights of homosexuals and women in the church, the question of mandatory celibacy for priests, overall,  the whole event turned out to be a success, and a welcome beacon of light in some dark times of faith.
The crowds that turned out to welcome him have generally been larger and more enthusiastic than even the organisers predicted. Many Catholics came to stand up against what they perceive as an increasing anti Catholic feeling and indifference to the value and role of faith in society.

The 83 year old Pope showed an enormous amount of energy in enduring a punishing schedule of events with little opportunity for rest and he earned much respect and admiration for this.
The Pope showed a most welcome human side to his personality, a soft voice, a modest, warm and compassionate demeanour when greeting people, a cheeky sense of humour;  all making him seen much more approachable than the commonly held image of a ruthless Rottweiler as frequently presented by the media.
He  was affectionately received as a shepherd and priest coming to celebrate with his flock and I believe we Catholics of all persuasions  needed that and were glad to show witness!!
He is also an astute and perceptive man who recognises and spells out what he sees are some of the enormous and complex challenges facing the world. 
The Pope spent a lot of time working hard to calm the waters over the sexual abuse crisis with repeated apologies and significantly public expressions of remorse and he held necessary meetings with people who had been abused. 

Despite all the differences of opinion, the apprehensions and negativity surrounding his visit,  it enabled Catholics and other Christians and non-christian faiths to come together to celebrate our faith and explore opportunities for more co-operation.

For Catholics we came together in a place to pray and listen and to recognise what the Pope represents, a point of  global unity, and a Pastor of his people.
For Catholics, it reminded us of our apostolic heritage, the belief in the peace and power of the living presence of God in the Eucharist and the vital importance of translating that  faith into actions in the everyday world -  that really was something to joyfully celebrate and be proud of.
I am immensely proud of the international work done by Catholic agencies and others in the relieving poverty in the world and this work has been advanced in discussions with the government and other bodies on this trip .
It was heartening to see and hear young people engage and witness to their faith and for many it would have been their first opportunity to recognise the value, support and sheer beauty of a much wider community of faith to which they belong. 
I am sure that for many young people coming from very small Catholic parishes where they may also be in a minority, it must have been a forceful revelation of great strength and happiness to see others who they were able to talk to and share their faith openly in an atmosphere that sometimes had deep spirituality and inspirational joy. 
It was also noticeable that many young people commented that the parts of the celebration of Mass they enjoyed most were those where there was complete silence !!

I hope they can maintain and build on their enthusiasm when they return to their parishes and that this will not be lost.
I did not enjoy the Latin parts of the Mass ... I love Gregorian chant and there are some beautiful Latin hymns but as a post Vatican II Catholic I do not value going back to Latin responses.

The Pope opened an important debate for our society : to restore faith to the public square, the protection of faith in a liberalising secular age and the discussion of faith and reason.

For me personally, I still believe that my church has got to change radically in the spheres where equality of rights for women and homosexuals could benefit the church so much in a pluralistic society.

There were times I was moved by the ceremonies and also felt proud of my faith but these were also tempered by a sadness and shame that the screen was so often filled with men only and there were only a few women visible. 

No other sector of life would be so under - represented and one sided. 

Out of 6 million Catholics in the UK there must only be a handful of women who can say they have a real voice in defining the future ministry of our church.

Reflecting on society , on what it is and what we want it to be, the last four days have shown that being part of a diverse community of faith is something good, but for me our identity as Catholics is still very much a work in progress and I would like to see change  and that is not on the grounds of moral relativism - it is an absolute that all of us should be equal in the eyes of God.
There are fresh challenges for our church and Christianity as a whole.These four days have shown that Christianity and Catholicism in Britain is alive, if not completely healthy. 
After all the intense media pressure we need to fashion our faith imaginatively to shape its future and as Archbishop Nichols likened the meeting of the Pope with his bishops as being like present in the upper room , significantly where many would say women were not present, it leaves me with a sadness that the place and missional prophetic voice of women in our church is still so one dimensional. 
Time and time again as I watched the meeting of the Pope with men and a sprinkling of women it struck me forcibly how deep is the gulf between men and women in the parts they can play in our church.
Men define the boundaries for my expression of ministry as a woman. 
I believe the Catholic church is poorer for that and its necessary ministry in the future will be diminished because of its narrowness of vision in this respect, because it does not embody my deepest desires for fulfillment of the wholness of my Catholic vision .
I remain in my church as I believe in the Eucharist and an apostolic church.

If these men desire to bring their reconciling power to the world where we live they have to be open to those areas they still neglect because they are still not listening.
They ask us to be witnesses of holiness and splendour of truth, living in the freedom in Christ  but this is is still hard for those who are faithful to their church and faith but who are still on the margins of full acceptance inside their church. 
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not confined to the Pope and the Bishops and it is not for men to define and then negate the reality of a vocation of the priesthood for those women who believe they have one and for those men who desire the fullness of a sexual married life but still feel the calling to the priesthood.  
It is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.

As Peter Stanford ,  a Catholic journalist commented 
"if it is dialogue and respect he is demanding (over, for example, faith schools and the public celebration of Christmas), then it cuts both ways.
If religion – and the Catholic church – is going to make "a vital contribution to a national conversation", it is going to have to start listening as well as wanting to be heard. In particular, it will have to accept with better grace than hitherto that in a democracy other opinions will sometimes prevail, and that those opinions are not necessarily always wrong and/or evil.
And we might ponder too on who the Pope and his bishops are speaking for. If they claim to represent the 10% of us who are Catholics, then they should reflect what, in good faith, we believe. The Pope, for example, may regard civil partnerships as "the legalisation of evil", but most Catholics do not, and can find no justification for such prejudice in the gospels. The true success of this visit will ultimately be judged not only by greater openness in our society to the voice of religion, but also in Pope Benedict's own willingness to listen and learn."

It is evident that limited resources and priests in the UK will impact on many parishes in the years to come and the Pope did not really highlight in his visit how this dilemma will be dealt with. In  my own diocese the shortage of priests and the old age of the remainder is a serious crisis.  Prayers for vocations and labourers for the harvest are much needed.

Dedication to solving this problem requires immediate action.  Fewer than 30 new priests a year are predicted in the UK.

The growth area of the Catholic church is in Africa and Asia where significantly the position of women in society is still dire and where homosexuality is either denied or severely punished as a crime  and so the growth of the Catholic Church globally is ensured,  making it  easier for the Pope and the Vatican to ignore the call for some essential and healthy changes that more modern democratic and enlightened countries ask.

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Tim said...

Phil, thank you for this enlightened, balanced dispatch. The papal visit to the UK has been in my prayers, asking God to begin a work of restoration and progress for the Faithful there. Indeed, I pray often for the RCC in general as I'm convinced it is called to be the change agent in a world gone astray. No other agency equals its size and influence in the world; surely God has a purpose for this and intends to use it for His glory.

Of course, my heart grieves the church's atavistic policies on women and gays. Yet I also marvel at how God opens doors no man can shut--just as He promised in The Revelation. You and so many other extraordinary Catholic women and GLBT believers have found a way to contribute to the Body of Christ by reaching out across the vast digital universe. You have made the Internet a sanctuary for all people and the keyboard the altar at which you serve. While your prelates may resist recognizing your gifts, can there be any doubt each of you is an ordained priest who ministers to her/his people? I think not.

I bless you--and thousands like you around the world--for your integrity and commitment. You have answered the call, entered the open door, and serve the catholic, universal Church. It is a higher calling than many recognize.

Peace, dearest sister,

Philomena Ewing said...

Your post is awesome and brought me to tears. Thank you so very much. I wish others were as compassionate and deeply involved in the mission and practice of their faith as you. You are a true brother and friend in Christ. You give me and others who share our hope for change great consolation and I am so thankful for your continued support.
Mega hugs to you across the miles.

Jan said...

Your words are too wise and profound for me to comment like the others above. Thanks for writing this.

Philomena Ewing said...

Jan. Thank you !!
Your presence is always welcome here.
Blessings :O))