By chance I caught BBC Radio 5Live's coverage of the speeches of Her Majesty the Queen and Pope Benedict XVI at Holyrood House, just before lunchtime today. The Queen's speech can be found on the site of the Monarchy, here. I was particularly struck by her reference to the contribution made by the Catholic Church's "extensive network of schools", and the recognition of a role that is played by religion in national identity and self-consciousness. This latter remark is echoed by Pope Benedict when he talks about the Christian heritage of the United Kingdom. There was a particular subtlety in Her Majesty's remark about religious freedom, a subtlety that seems to have been missed by commentators:
Your Holiness, in recent times you have said that ‘religions can never become vehicles of hatred, that never by invoking the name of God can evil and violence be justified’. Today, in this country, we stand united in that conviction. We hold that freedom to worship is at the core of our tolerant and democratic societyAs you will see below, Pope Benedict is clear that religious freedom is about much more than just freedom to worship - and it is surprising that secularists haven't spotted the possible implications of this choice of phrase by Her Majesty. Whether Her Majesty, or perhaps Her Majesty's government, intended anything by this choice of phrase is not clear.
In the address at Holyrood House:
The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the “Holy Cross” and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years....
Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth 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 and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
And this latter paragraph is already causing controversy, though one should perhaps note that the suggestion that the Pope compared today's atheists with the Nazis is to invert the way in which Pope Benedict expressed himself.
From the homily during Mass in Glasgow:
The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a “dictatorship of relativism” threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister. For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.Zero was able to watch most of the Mass on television after getting home from work, and reports it to have been a very moving occasion.
But it is the pictures (and here) that say it all. I am particularly struck by the smile on the Queen's face as she greets Pope Benedict from the car at the Palace of Holyrood.
Zero also tipped me off to a Youtube video of the Pope arriving at Holyrood House to be greeted by the Queen, and then on his drive through Edinburgh. I think the Pope is quite moved at the moment the band begins to play the anthem. But the funny moment is when Mgr Gänswein tries to give Pope Benedict his glasses - above his hand, and then below - but His Holiness is not having anything of it! The route of the Papal drive looks as if it was quite well lined.
PS: I have now got my pilgrim pack for Cofton Park ...