An anniversary and a jubilee
This year marks the 40 th anniversary of the first-ever visit of a Pope to Britain. Pope – now Saint – John Paul II summed up the historic significance of the event as he arrived: “For the first the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil.”
It was a magnificent and successful visit, with vast crowds gathering in London, Cardiff, Glasgow and elsewhere – and it was followed, of course, by the possibly even more successful, and more significant, State Visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Which brings us to the better-known anniversary marked this year: the Platinum Jubilee of the Queen. A deservedly beloved monarch, the Queen has served the nation and the Commonwealth with dedication and courage during decades that have seen massive social change and presented her with every sort of challenge not excluding substantial problems in her own family.
At her Silver Jubilee in 1972, Catholics in Britain, co-ordinated by Peter McDonald of the CRUX Movement, organised a Spiritual Bouquet, offering prayers, Masses, Rosaries and litanies for her, in thanksgiving for her 25 years of service.
The Queen is a practising Christian, whose faithful attendance at church has hallmarked her reign. She has been open in her annual Christmas broadcasts in speaking of the Christian faith and the centrality of Christ in her own life. The Faith Movement is glad to associate itself with the prayers and thanks that are being offered across Britain: We all owe the Queen a debt of gratitude for her service and for the witness that she gives to the human and spiritual values on which a civilised nation must be based.
When Pope John Paul II met the Queen in 1982, it was during the tense days of the Falklands War: Pope and monarch both handled the situation with grace and care. Pictures of them chatting became popular postcards. There was a message of goodwill and friendship that matched the other notable events of the Papal visit and set a seal on them: joint Anglican/Catholic prayers at the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, vast cheering crowds in the streets, warm friendly meetings with representatives of other faiths. Decades on, we still give thanks to God for all of this, especially as it took place not long after Pope St John Paul had suffered two assassination attempts – in Rome and at Fatima – and the visit of necessity involved immense amounts of work and care on the part of our public and Church authorities. The visit, and the State Visit of Pope Benedict in 2010 saw Britain at its best.
There will be prayers in our churches over the 2022 Jubilee weekend, giving thanks to God for the Queen’s reign and asking for his blessing on her remaining years. We do need prayer for our poor country. Britain is not a happy place in 2022: there is a good deal of violent crime - especially involving street-stabbings – a rising suicide rate among the young, and a sense of confusion about how we should view ourselves and our history. There is concern about our religious freedom: speaking out on some topics, especially those concerning sexual morality, can be something that requires courage for Christians.
It is magnificent that the great Pope who visited us in 1982 is now a canonised saint. St George’s Cathedral in Southwark is hosting a commemorative display honouring this year’s anniversary: the cathedral boasts a fine stained-glass window depicting the Pope’s visit. Britain really also needs a public statue of this Pope: a site near Westminster Cathedral suggests itself as suitable.
Let us invoke the prayers of St John Paul II as we pray for our Sovereign and our country in this Jubilee Year.