Blair-Benedict meeting stokes rumours on war, conversion and papal visit

By staff writers
June 3, 2006

Blair-Benedict meeting stokes rumours on war, conversion and papal visit

-03/06/06

Amid rumours of an imminent conversion to Catholicism and speculation about discussions on the Iraq conflict, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is understood to have invited Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the worldís 1.1-1.5 billion Catholics, to visit the UK in ìthe near futureî.

The move came in the middle of a 40 minute papal audience during Mr Blairís Italy trip, which has also included a holiday and discussions with the countryís new PM, the centre-left Romano Prodi.

The Vatican had apparently politely declined an earlier invitation from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, seeking instead for ìthe right timeî. The year 2008 has been mooted, but the Pope is understood to have made no firm commitment.

The length of the audience was longer than that usually granted to heads of state, fuelling speculation about Anglican Mr Blairís increasing closeness to Roman Catholicism, and questions about how far the pontiff pushed him on military adventurism.

Pope Benedictís predecessor, John Paul II, met Mr Blair in 2003 (the PMís last papal audience) and is known to have strongly advised against war in Iraq, in spite of his frail health.

The Catholic Church has taken an increasingly anti-militaristic line in recent years, and the number of Catholic peace activists worldwide has continued to grow. Vatican Radio gave sympathetic coverage to Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq.

Reports suggest that the Pope and Mr Blair agreed that that mainstream religious leaders needed to work together more effectively to tackle extremism and terrorism, acknowledging that this has roots in distorted versions of faith.

Pope Benedict has said that terrorism is ìa perversionî and has also declared that war offers no solutions to the traumas of the world. Globalisation and its impact on the poor, especially in Africa, is also said to have been an issue raised in the discussion.

"The Vatican is an influential player on the world stage and, through all the Catholic communities around the world, has a significant influence on international opinion," a Downing Street spokesperson said just before the meeting.

He went on: "The Prime Minister will be interested in the Pope's views on key foreign policy issues. In particular he will want to discuss with the Pope inter-faith relations and how best inter-faith dialogue can help with conflict resolution.î

"He also wants to stress the importance of the international community - including governments, international institutions, religions and other parts of civil society - working together to deal with the big global challenges such as the threat to security but also issues like trade, poverty and climate change."

The last papal visit to Britain was in 1982, when a much younger John Paul II was received with enthusiasm by hundreds of thousands of people ñ and millions on TV.

Travelling in the famous ëpopemobileí, Benedictís predecessor came across as a warm and ecumenical figure, only later communicating the deep underlying conservatism for which he became better known.

He was the first Pope to be received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, then Robert Runcie, in Canterbury Cathedral.

On the question of whether Tony Blair might eventually convert to Catholicism, the faith of his wife Cherie Booth, Tory MP Ann Widdecombe commented to The Independent newspaper that he would have to change his stance on ëpro-lifeí issues to fit in with the Churchís official teaching.

But it has been noted that Ms Widdecombe, a former Home Office minister, herself appears lukewarm on those aspects of Catholic social doctrine which are critical of capitalism, uphold workersí rights and call for a strict limit on war.
Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet, said of todayís meeting: "An invitation to visit Britain from the [UK] government to Pope Benedict would be greatly appreciated by Catholics in this country. As to whether Britain is ready for a Catholic Prime Minister ... [that] is another matter."

[Also on Ekklesia: Pope tells Poles he backs stronger inter-church relations; Benedict says 'never again' at Auschwitz-Birkenau; Mixed reactions to Pope's Auschwitz speech; Pope invited to visit Britain; Benedict XVI calls on Europe to re-establish Christian roots; Christians asked by Pope to renounce power and wealth; Pope to meet WCC head as churches look to new era; Europe will be high on the new Popeís agenda; Pope puts his faith in world youth rally; Hard-liner is new Pope Benedict XVI; Benedict challenged to open global doors of Church; Date for Pope's visit to Britain set says newspaper; Pope faces controversy on gay priests and HIV/AIDS; Archbishop's 'message' to the Vatican denied; Call for dialogue with Pope following controversial meeting; Pope meets new leader of the Taize community; Catholics and Reformed move closer together; Youth make a global appeal to Benedict XVI]

Blair-Benedict meeting stokes rumours on war, conversion and papal visit

-03/06/06

Amid rumours of an imminent conversion to Catholicism and speculation about discussions on the Iraq conflict, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is understood to have invited Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the worldís 1.1-1.5 billion Catholics, to visit the UK in ìthe near futureî.

The move came in the middle of a 40 minute papal audience during Mr Blairís Italy trip, which has also included a holiday and discussions with the countryís new PM, the centre-left Romano Prodi.

The Vatican had apparently politely declined an earlier invitation from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, seeking instead for ìthe right timeî. The year 2008 has been mooted, but the Pope is understood to have made no firm commitment.

The length of the audience was longer than that usually granted to heads of state, fuelling speculation about Anglican Mr Blairís increasing closeness to Roman Catholicism, and questions about how far the pontiff pushed him on military adventurism.

Pope Benedictís predecessor, John Paul II, met Mr Blair in 2003 (the PMís last papal audience) and is known to have strongly advised against war in Iraq, in spite of his frail health.

The Catholic Church has taken an increasingly anti-militaristic line in recent years, and the number of Catholic peace activists worldwide has continued to grow. Vatican Radio gave sympathetic coverage to Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq.

Reports suggest that the Pope and Mr Blair agreed that that mainstream religious leaders needed to work together more effectively to tackle extremism and terrorism, acknowledging that this has roots in distorted versions of faith.

Pope Benedict has said that terrorism is ìa perversionî and has also declared that war offers no solutions to the traumas of the world. Globalisation and its impact on the poor, especially in Africa, is also said to have been an issue raised in the discussion.

"The Vatican is an influential player on the world stage and, through all the Catholic communities around the world, has a significant influence on international opinion," a Downing Street spokesperson said just before the meeting.

He went on: "The Prime Minister will be interested in the Pope's views on key foreign policy issues. In particular he will want to discuss with the Pope inter-faith relations and how best inter-faith dialogue can help with conflict resolution.î

"He also wants to stress the importance of the international community - including governments, international institutions, religions and other parts of civil society - working together to deal with the big global challenges such as the threat to security but also issues like trade, poverty and climate change."

The last papal visit to Britain was in 1982, when a much younger John Paul II was received with enthusiasm by hundreds of thousands of people ñ and millions on TV.

Travelling in the famous ëpopemobileí, Benedictís predecessor came across as a warm and ecumenical figure, only later communicating the deep underlying conservatism for which he became better known.

He was the first Pope to be received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, then Robert Runcie, in Canterbury Cathedral.

On the question of whether Tony Blair might eventually convert to Catholicism, the faith of his wife Cherie Booth, Tory MP Ann Widdecombe commented to The Independent newspaper that he would have to change his stance on ëpro-lifeí issues to fit in with the Churchís official teaching.

But it has been noted that Ms Widdecombe, a former Home Office minister, herself appears lukewarm on those aspects of Catholic social doctrine which are critical of capitalism, uphold workersí rights and call for a strict limit on war.
Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet, said of todayís meeting: "An invitation to visit Britain from the [UK] government to Pope Benedict would be greatly appreciated by Catholics in this country. As to whether Britain is ready for a Catholic Prime Minister ... [that] is another matter."

[Also on Ekklesia: Pope tells Poles he backs stronger inter-church relations; Benedict says 'never again' at Auschwitz-Birkenau; Mixed reactions to Pope's Auschwitz speech; Pope invited to visit Britain; Benedict XVI calls on Europe to re-establish Christian roots; Christians asked by Pope to renounce power and wealth; Pope to meet WCC head as churches look to new era; Europe will be high on the new Popeís agenda; Pope puts his faith in world youth rally; Hard-liner is new Pope Benedict XVI; Benedict challenged to open global doors of Church; Date for Pope's visit to Britain set says newspaper; Pope faces controversy on gay priests and HIV/AIDS; Archbishop's 'message' to the Vatican denied; Call for dialogue with Pope following controversial meeting; Pope meets new leader of the Taize community; Catholics and Reformed move closer together; Youth make a global appeal to Benedict XVI]

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