Edward Pentin’s Vatican Notebook
Anotable stop appears to be missing from the Pope’s itinerary being drawn up for his trip to Britain later this year: the cathedral city of Canterbury.
Despite its fundamental importance to Britain’s Christian history, Vatican sources say that currently officials responsible for organising the trip aren’t even discussing the possibility.
So far it’s speculated that Pope Benedict XVI will visit London, Oxford and Birmingham, before travelling up to Scotland where he will meet the Queen at Balmoral. The English leg of the trip will probably only last two days in mid-September.
If true, that will probably not allow enough time to visit the first episcopal see in England founded by St Augustine of Canterbury in 597. Symbolically, at least, such an omission would be a pity. John Paul II’s visit to the city in 1982, when he prayed with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, at the spot of St Thomas à Beckett’s martyrdom, was arguably the most memorable image of that historic visit.
Dr Rowan Williams and Benedict XVI will certainly have a meeting but if pushed for time it will probably take place at a more convenient location such as Lambeth Palace. The danger of not visiting Canterbury is that some might see it as a snub to Dr Williams and the Church of England. But that might accurately reflect the futile nature of current Anglican-Catholic talks. Or perhaps it points to something more optimistic: that while Canterbury was the home of the first evangelisation of the English, Birmingham and the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman will be the launch of the second.
Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting Rome’s synagogue on Sunday, despite the
kerfuffle surrounding his recent decree declaring Pius XII Venerable. A prominent critic of that decision was Rabbi David Rosen. Although he acknowledges there is now “significant evidence” in Pius’s favour, Rosen nevertheless wants the Vatican archives opened and believes “it is somewhat disingenuous” of the Vatican not to recognise how the beatification process “is perceived and will be perceived”.
So I asked him what Pius needed to have done to avoid upsetting today’s Jews over his beatification. Should he have laid down his life? “For most Jews, and many others, the only ones whom appear saintly in the face of that evil were those who lay down their very lives in opposition to it,” said Rosen. “I would dare to say that the Catholic Church should see matters in the same light. However, even if it cannot, it should be able to understand that Jews perceive as insensitive the idea that anyone who did not put their life on the line at that time can be considered saintly or as warranting a move in that direction.” Yet straight after the war, Jews had only words of tribute for Pius’s heroism. And historians now say that he did put his life on the line, mainly through ordering monasteries and convents to hide thousands of Rome’s Jews. Hitler also wanted to kidnap and possibly kill him. Just because he survived, does that make him any less heroic?