Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain, all but expected to take place next September, will be of historic significance to both the nation and the Catholic Church of England and Wales.
The papal trip, leaked to the media Sept. 23, will be the first state visit by a pontiff to the British Isles since the Reformation, and comes after repeated invitations from government and church leaders.
The Pope’s itinerary will also most probably include an historic papal address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, the site where St. Thomas More was tried and condemned for opposing the Act of Supremacy. The Act made King Henry VIII "supreme head" of the emerging Church of England, leading to the country’s break with Rome.
Benedict XVI has long had a personal devotion to St. Thomas, who was Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII and is now the patron saint of politicians. The Pope admires him for his steadfast refusal to compromise on his Catholic faith under state pressure.
Benedict’s visit is also expected to coincide with the beatification of Cardinal John Newman. The Pope has also long been an admirer of the 19th century theologian, who will be first non-martyred English male to be beatified since the Reformation.
“Here you have the first ever state visit by a pontiff, coming as a guest of the queen, and probably also to beatify Cardinal Newman,” a source told Newsmax on condition of anonymity. “It’s the ultimate rapprochement between Rome and London.”
Planning for the visit has been going on for some time, but the story was leaked before exact details had been worked out. Although neither the Vatican nor the British government have yet to officially announce the visit, a statement issued Sept. 23 by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, is being read by many as confirmation of the trip.
Nichols said the prospect of the visit “fills us with joy” and that the Catholic Church of England and Wales was "glad" the Holy Father was considering invitations from both her majesty’s government and the church.
Pope John Paul II spent six days in Britain in 1982, but it was not accorded the status of a state visit.
Official confirmation of the trip is expected soon, possibly in the next few days.
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