Editor’s Note: Newsmax’s Vatican correspondent, Edward Pentin, is traveling with the papal entourage during Pope Benedict XVI’s historic state visit to Great Britain. Pentin, a longtime journalist who specializes in Vatican coverage, filed the following report, as well as making additional observations during the Newsmax.TV interview featured below.
So far so good for Pope Benedict XVI after the first and very full day of his controversial yet much-anticipated state visit to the United Kingdom. The protests that so many had predicted failed to materialize after he stepped off the papal plane in Edinburgh, Scotland, with Queen Elizabeth II there to welcome him.
But Scotland wasn’t expected to be a hotbed of dissent. That may await the Pope during the next leg of his visit to London, which begins tomorrow. The Vatican is largely unfazed at the prospect.
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Benedict’s speech to the queen set the mood for this truly historic visit, and whose themes will doubtless be repeated over the next three days. The Pope is in Britain essentially as a man of reconciliation, to bring the church and state closer together, and to help further the path toward Christian unity.
He spoke movingly of Britain's contribution to the world, stressing that the good the nation has achieved owes itself to the country's “deep Christian roots.” He praised Britain’s resistance to Nazi tyranny, its achievements in reaching peace in Northern Ireland, and the country’s “key role” politically and economically on the international stage.
But he also criticized “aggressive secularism” and warned of its dangers. “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 and thus to a reductive vision of the person and his destiny,” he said.
It was an unveiled matching of radical atheism with the tyrannies of the past, something to which the Pope, who suffered as a child under the Nazis, is particularly sensitive. He also directed a few words at the country's largely liberal media, which has at times been particularly hostile to this visit and to him personally.
“The British media have a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights,” he said.
The historical weight of this papal trip, one of the most challenging of his pontificate, is not lost on the Pope. As the Scots Guards band played national anthem of Great Britain, he removed his white skull-cap as a mark of respect.
He then walked, smiling constantly, into the palace with the queen, where the two leaders and Prince Philip had a short private meeting.
The queen also is well aware of the Pope's benevolent intentions on this trip. In her speech, Elizabeth II, who is also the supreme governor of the Anglican Church of England, noted that the Pope's presence “reminds us of our common Christian heritage” and the Catholic Church's contribution to good in the world.
She also stressed the importance of dialogue and that Britain and the Pope “stand united” in the conviction that “religions can never become vehicles of hatred.”
A reception and a trip in the popemobile through the streets of Edinburgh followed, with what the police estimate were 100,000 people lining the streets of Edinburgh and cheering him on. Later, he celebrated Mass in front of a lively crowd of tens of thousands of pilgrims who had gathered at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow.
“It's wonderful, and we as Scots feel very privileged that the Pope has come here,” said Alice Boyle, who was at the same venue when Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit in 1982. “The atmosphere is as good as it was then,” she said.
Most cast aside the protests and controversies over the visit. “They're given too much airtime, and no one here pays attention to them,” said pilgrim Tom Emans, although he added that his non-Catholic friends were indifferent to the visit and some quite hostile to it.
In his homily, the Pope stressed the importance of Christian evangelization, saying it “is all the more important” at a time “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.”
One of the Pope's greatest concerns is that Western society is severing itself from its Christian roots, leading to the abuse of human dignity. He also had words for the young. “There are many temptations placed before you every day — drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol — which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive,” he said.
But “there is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you.” After Mass, the Pope was driven in a motorcade to Glasgow airport and a flight to London after a very full schedule. Another historic day awaits him tomorrow, when he will deliver a speech in the heart of Westminster, the place where St. Thomas More, the Catholic Church's patron saint of politicians, was tried and condemned by King Henry VIII for holding to Christian principles in the face of state opposition. For this reason, and the overall Catholic and state symbolism of the venue, it's being billed as one of the most important addresses of his pontificate.
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