On the 28th May 1982 for the first time in history a Bishop of Rome set foot on English soil, four centuries since the break of the Church of England with Rome. That was thirty years ago and the Pope was Blessed John Paul II.
But while this Apostolic visit had been scheduled long before 1982, at the last minute owing to the dire circumstances of the Falklands war it was almost called off.
So beyond this historical dimension as well as the pastoral one which was centred around the seven sacraments of the Church, the hallmark of this six day journey which took this Polish Pontiff to England, Scotland and Wales was his constant call to peace and reconciliation.
As he himself said upon arrival at Gatwick airport : “My visit is taking place at a time of tension and anxiety, a time when the attention of the world has been focused on the delicate situation of the conflict in the South Atlantic.. As I stand here today , I renew my heartfelt appeal and I pray that such a settlement will soon be reached . “…
The Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly was present at the Holy Mass the Holy Father presided over in Coventry and recalls in a special way the Pope’s words during the homily there on Pentecost Sunday.
This is an excerpt from that homily: ” Today, the scale and the horror of modern warfare – whether nuclear or not – makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the tragic past , to history ; it should find no place on humanitys’ agenda for the future “….
Catholic author Joanna Bogle also picks up on John Paul II’s impassioned pleas for peace as she shares her personal memories of this six day trip . Among the things she pinpoints in a special way are the simplicity of his repeated request to English Catholics to pray and his insistance they attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis.
On a lighter note both Joanna Bogle and Archbishop Kelly highlight how the Pope was received and indeed had tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace .
Joanna Bogle also indicates how John Paul II set the ground for the visit of his future successor to the See of Peter, Benedict XVI almost thirty years later.
Both popes following in the footsteps of another Roman Pontiff, Gregory the Great . A Pope who may not have crossed the channel that separates England from the continent but sent an envoy there centuries earlier, precisely in 595.
The envoy being no other than Saint Augustine, whose presence on the Island was mentioned by Blessed John Paul II on the eve of his visit to the heart of the Church of England, Canterbury Cathedral.
An occasion during which he was received by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the time Doctor Robert Runcie and joined in an ecumencial service , pronouncing these words:
“On this first visit of a Pope to Canterbury, I come to you in love – the love of Peter I come to you also in the love of Gregory, who sent Saint Augustine to this place to give the Lord’s flock a shepherd’s care . Just as every minister of the Gospel must do, so today I echo the words of the Master: “I am among you as one who serves” . With me I bring to you, beloved brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion, the hopes and the desires, the prayers and good will of all who are united with the Church of Rome, which from earliest times was said to “preside in love”…