Bishop Declan Lang sent out this Pastoral Letter today, reflection on the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
I was talking to a group of young people in St Augustine’s College, Trowbridge and saying to them that Pope Benedict described his visit to the United Kingdom as a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey with purpose. We go on pilgrimages to places which we regard as special because in those places we believe we can discover the presence of God. Pilgrimages are journeys we do with others, not alone. We support one another. Together we discover and celebrate the presence of God and find out more about ourselves and our fellow pilgrims. Pilgrims witness to who they are and what they hope to become.
Pope Benedict, by coming to our countries, was saying that here is a place where we can discover God because it is in this place that God is present to us and to all people. People may have lost sight of God but God has not lost sight of us. God is present to all because God loves each one of us and has created each person for good purpose. No one in our world is without value because everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. Within every person there is a restlessness for God even if God is not recognised by name. Together we are called to work for the common good of our society which is rich in diversity and culture.
On many occasions Pope Benedict spoke about what is good in our nation and the contribution Britain has made to the good of others beyond our shores. When speaking in Westminster Hall he praised the contribution that Parliament has made to participative government among nations and to the common law tradition which serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world. In Cofton Park he recalled those who had sacrificed their lives in the fight against the evil of the Nazi regime. The Pope renewed his resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms. In his audience with the Queen, he recalled William Wilberforce and his fight against slavery and Florence Nightingale and her determination for new standards in nursing. He also remembered St Thomas More, a man of conscience, who was the King’s good servant but God’s first. And of course there is John Henry Newman whom Pope Benedict had come to beatify and proclaim as a witness to the Gospel – a man of prayer, learning, pastoral care and an explorer of truth which is made visible in the person of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict also challenged us. He particularly asked what are the moral principles we apply when making decisions both in our personal lives and in public life, including politics, business and the economy. Are those principles based upon the truths of God which can be discovered through faith and reason or are they based upon short term gains and selfish motivation? Are our decisions made upon the basis of the common good or simply on “what is good for me”? Pope Benedict said we are called to be happy, but true happiness only occurs when we live life according to the way of God, which is one of great generosity not selfishness.
Taking as the theme of his pilgrimage – Heart speaks unto heart – the Pope spoke from his heart to our hearts. He spoke about the heart of God seen in the love of Christ. He gave fresh heart to Catholics and to many other people seeking the truth of life. We must now continue to give fresh heart to one another and to all who we meet.
With a sense of renewed confidence we take up the challenges to be parishes in communion with God and one another for the sake of mission. We are called to be a people dedicated to God; a people of prayer who are able to tell others what we believe and who we believe in. That belief needs to be celebrated fittingly in our liturgies.
As the Pope said to the young people in Twickenham, we are called to be saints, not content with second best but striving to recognise and witness to the presence of God in the places where we work and live.
With my best wishes and prayers
Bishop of Clifton
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