BY JOHN THAVIS
POPE BENEDICT XVI appealed for the preservation of Britain’s long Christian tradition and criticised “aggressive” forms of secularism and atheism in a speech made at his official reception at the Palace of Holyroodhouse last Thursday.
At a reception with Queen Elizabeth II and more than 400 distinguished guests at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, the Pope said: “Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike.” The Pope evoked the moral heroism of a long line of British figures, from Florence Nightingale to Cardinal Newman, whom the Pope was to beatify during the visit. Christian witness was also evident during World War II against a “Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society”, he said.
“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society,” he said.
In an unusual courtesy gesture, Prince Philip greeted the Pope when he arrived at Edinburgh airport after a twohour flight from Rome.
Edinburgh welcomed the 83-year-old Pontiff with a distinctively Scottish display of enthusiasm, including a parade, bagpipe bands and a papal tartan designed especially for the visit. The Pope removed his zucchetto and held it to his chest in a mark of respect as a military band played “God Save the Queen”. After a royal salute from the Guard of Honour in the courtyard of the palace, the Pope and the Queen then held a private meeting and exchanged gifts. They then moved out of the palace grounds to a marquee, where hundreds of political and cultural dignitaries listened to their speeches. The Pope outlined an argument for the place of religion in public affairs, emphasising that British saints and other leading Christians have “shaped the nation for good at the deepest level”. While modern Britain strives to be a multicultural society, he said, it must respect the traditional values and cultural expressions “that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate”.
He said the British media had a big responsibility in shaping the ideas and culture of its society and in promoting the “honesty, respect and fair-mindedness” for which the country is known.
The Queen also underlined the importance of Britain’s Christian heritage, telling the Pope that his visit was also a reminder of “the Christian contribution to the encouragement of world peace and to the economic and social development of the less prosperous countries of the world”.
The Queen said that religion is so important to national identity that the relationship between different communions and different faiths is “a fundamental factor in the necessary cooperation within and between nation states. It is, therefore, vital to encourage a greater mutual and respectful understanding.” The Queen told the Holy Father: “We know from experience that through committed dialogue, old suspicions can be transcended and a greater mutual trust established.
“I know that reconciliation was a central theme in the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, for whom you will be holding a Mass of beatification on Sunday. A man who struggled with doubt and uncertainty, his contribution to the understanding of Christianity continues to influence many,” she said.
Afterwards, the Queen introduced the Pope to a long line of officials and religious leaders.