Weekly audio update: FCO press conference 31 August 2010

Welcome to our weekly update on Pope Benedict's visit to the UK. In a change to the normal format, this week Lord Patten and Archbishop Vincent Nichols speak at a press conference held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 31 August.

The addresses of both Lord Patten and Archbishop Vincent Nichols are available by playing the MP3s using the player on the right hand side of this article.

Lord Patten: Can I just say myself at the outset that I think this visit deserves the word ‘historic’ given the island story of this archipelago. The first state visit of a Pope to the United Kingdom is a moment of very great significance, and I say that not only as one of the 10% of the population who is Catholic, but I think for the whole country. The last Government invited His Holiness to come to the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and several ministers conveyed that invitation. The Queen gave a formal invitation earlier this year, the new coalition Government is delighted that the Pope accepted that invitation, and regards his visit here later this month as an extremely special moment for all of us, whether Christians, Catholics, or not. The reasons I’ll set out very briefly and others will speak to them.

First of all, we are welcoming the head of a Church which represents about 10% of citizens of this country, and represents over a billion people around the world. Secondly, we're welcoming somebody with whose Church we work closely around the world in pursuit of the Government's aims of promoting social equity and sustainable development. We don't share every policy position but we work extremely closely with the Church in Africa, in Asia, in the United Nations, for example, in about three weeks time in promoting the same goals in New York when the Millennium Development Goals are discussed, and I hope when the issue of climate change is debated once again later this year.

We also work very closely with faith groups, and in particular the Catholic Church, in trying to develop social solidarity in our community. The Catholic Church of course makes an important contribution to the social development of our society, and in particular to education of which, like it or not, I am one of the products. So for all those reasons the Pope's visit is hugely welcome. But it’s also welcome I think because of its assertion of the important role that religion, that Christianity, has played in the shaping of our own society. I think people will be listening to what His Holiness has to say about the relationship between religion and some of the other presently dominant influences in our society and in Europe as a whole.

The details of the visit had been made clear I think in press statements from the Vatican. As you know the Pope is beginning his visit in Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow. Then coming down to London for events in London, and then going to Birmingham on his last day for the beatification of Cardinal Newman who is another significant reminder of the Catholic heritage, Christian heritage, in this country. Cardinal Newman was described at the time of his death by the Manchester Guardian, as it then was, as the greatest Englishman and certainly the greatest writer of the English language. So that's the overall shape of the program which will enable His Holiness to meet representatives of civil society, other faith groups, political leaders, and of course Christians and Catholics. The arrangements have been taken forward very well by a team of Government departments, local authorities, the police, health services. I think that everything is in place for what I hope will be a visit which will of course be seen not only by people in this country, but by hundreds of millions around the world.

It’s worth remembering that this is not only a great British event but a great European Commonwealth event, 40% of Canadians are Catholic, 25% of Australians, and a great global event. When the Pope went to Sydney for World Youth Day I think more people went to Sydney for that than went to Sydney for the Olympics. We would expect a huge amount of global attention for his visit here. So I think this visit will be hugely interesting, hugely successful, and the one thing we can't hand-on-heart guarantee is the weather, but we hope it will be more like Rome than Oslo.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols: Thank you very much Lord Patten. Could I speak just for a few moments from perspectives of the Catholic community in this country, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and including the perspectives of the Catholic community in Scotland as well. I think the first point I would like to make is to express very clearly our thanks to Her Majesty’s Government for not simply the invitation extended to the Holy Father, but also for the extraordinary effort and cooperation that they have extended in planning this visit. That cooperation and the planning has been complex, and it's been difficult and sensitive at times but this is unexplored territory. There has never been a state visit like this before and I would like to emphasise that the effort that has been made, particularly under the leadership of Lord Patten, is quite extraordinary. And I'm very, very grateful to the Government for that very positive cooperation and leadership that they have offered in cooperation with the Catholic community in getting this visit well organised as it now is. And we look forward to it with great confidence and ease. We know that things are in place now and that this visit will unfold in a very excellent way.

Clearly the Catholic community looks forward to this immensely. In 1982 when Pope John Paul II came to this country that was in response to an invitation extended by the Catholic community, and in a way the rest of society in Britain watched. They watched with interest, they watched with some curiosity, but nevertheless it was quite a spectacle, but it was a Catholic spectacle. This is different because now the Pope has been invited to address UK society. Clearly there is a strong Catholic component to the events but nevertheless in response to the invitation he will address the society of our country at this crucial time. So we look forward to it very, very much indeed.

I think in my mind, reflecting quite a lot of what Lord Patten has just said, there are three dimensions or three levels at which this visit unfolds and works. The first is that it is a visit between two international entities, the United Kingdom and the Holy See, so there is a very official structure to this visit. There will be a banquet at which leaders from the different sections of the work of the Church worldwide sit down and discuss with Government officials, as we will hear shortly. What is fascinating perhaps to remember is that the first ambassador from this country to the Holy See was appointed in 1479, and in fact it was the first overseas ambassador appointed by the Monarch of England was to the Holy See. So this inter-state, if you like, this relationship, this official diplomatic relationship between the Holy See and the United Kingdom is very, very long. And even though there are long gaps in that relationship it’s very significant.

Secondly I think, from this country's point of view as Lord Patten has already said, there are profound historic and cultural implications and ramifications for the visit. And I suspect that these will be conveyed as much in the images as in some of the speeches and the words. So the image of Her Majesty The Queen welcoming Pope Benedict and formally greeting each other is one that will resonate through the story of this land. When the Pope enters Westminster Hall on the Friday evening to address politicians, diplomats, leaders of this society, that will be another very historic and resonant moment. The Pope will pause at the spot at which Saint Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, was condemned to death in 1535 for his Catholic faith. He will be on that spot. He will also, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, go to pray at the tomb of St Edward the confessor, the canonised King of England, the founder of Westminster Abbey. And that too will enable us, as it were, to reach back into the deeper roots of who this nation is, who we are, and what our cultural roots are, and how refreshing they can be when they are seen to be a living source of inspiration for people today. And I think the fact that the Pope will also meet with leaders of society, who are men and women of all the different faiths present in this country, will also be a moment in which the Pope affirms the role of the breadth of faith in God as found here as a contributor to the common good.

And I think the third level at which this visit will work is in terms, as Lord Patten has said, of the role of faith in society at a personal and community level. We will in the course of the visit be exploring the role of faith and education, the role of the Christian faith and the care of the elderly, the dialogue between faiths, the fundamental search for God in the spirituality of the human person especially in a Vigil of Prayer in Hyde Park on the Saturday evening. And again there's a little resonance there that the previous Saturday there will have been the great Proms in the Park event where music is the medium by which the spirit of our endeavours of human beings is used. The following Saturday it will be Prayer in the Park where we, as it were, look at the centre of this great city at the role of how the human person stands before God in prayer. Then in Westminster Cathedral the theme of exploration will be much more sensitive. It will be to do with compassion, to do with the experience of forgiveness, and what are the sources of forgiveness that are so needed in our society.

And then finally in this role of faith in society there is the figure of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was above all else an explorer of the experiences of the heart. Which is why, when he was appointed to be a cardinal of the Catholic Church, he chose as his motto the title that we've given to this explanatory booklet ‘heart speaks unto heart’. Because he said it’s through the imagination, it is through the metaphors, it is through the language of the heart, that the things of God most come through to us. Rather than through the logic of argument or eloquent discourse. It might be of interest to you that the origin of the phrase ‘heart speaks unto heart’ is in fact from the writings of St Francis de Sales who is the patron saint of journalists, so there's somebody on your side at this point. Lord Patten, thank you very much.


Archbishop Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols at press conference held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 31 August 2010.   Arch-Nichols-310810.mp3 7.69 MB

Lord Patten

Lord Christopher Patten at a press conference held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 31 August 2010.   Lord_Patten_310810.mp3 6.14 MB