Pope Benedict's UK visit: an emphasis on human need

By Shay Cullen
September 17, 2010

A Catholic priest whose columns appear regularly on Ekklesia, who was interviewed by Peter Tatchell for his 'Trouble with the Pope' Channel 4 documentary, and who has been widely praised for his work against child abuse and his example as a reforming but faithful priest, offers a personal view on Benedict in Britain. He lives and works in the Philippines, but writes this article from Dublin.


The visit this week of Pope Benedict VXI is for me, and many Catholics, a recognition and celebration of the long history of courage, faithfulness, and commitment to the gospel of Catholics of the United Kingdom. The visit underlines the importance and wide ranging impact on moral issues with political consequences that the Catholic Church has had despite its small numbers.

The United Kingdom is a secular non-religious nation so the issues raised during the Pope's visit may not interest the majority of the population. The visit however, may help people focus more on Christianity itself, and hopefully, on the social teachings of the church that Catholics in the UK have striven to practice.

While the media will continue to zoom in on the Pope himself and on the relationship between the Vatican and the Anglican Church, it will not be a big issue for the majority of Britons, who are mostly indifferent to religious matters.

For some, the Pope's invitation to Anglican priests to defect to Rome might come up, and the Vatican's recent declaration that for a Catholic priest to attempt to ordain a woman is a church crime, might cause discomfort among Anglicans who plan to do just that in the Anglican Church. I hope these issues will not dominate the visit.

The visit, while it is officially a state visit, ought not be misinterpreted as a mission to evangelise, convert or promote Catholicism [but] rather as a visit to promote mutual understanding and common commitment to all areas of human need and suffering and to work for world peace, justice and equality.

While the Beatification of The Anglican priest [and] theologian John Henry Newman who converted to Catholicism in the 18th century and was made a cardinal, might be seen as a silent invitation to others to follow his example, instead may it seen for what it is: the honouring of a great and holy man.

The visit should not focus on the personality of Pope Benedict, but help the public to see the great Christian values and social teachings of the church that lies behind the office of the Pope. His role is that of a Man of God striving to represent and implement the teachings and the practice of Jesus of Nazareth.

He ought not to be solely painted as an enforcer of dogma or as a church leader who failed to act immediately and directly to protect victims of clerical sexual abuse and bring abusers to justice, as some claim him to be.

Ideally we want our Pope to be a humble spiritual leader who mirrors the words and mission of Jesus Christ. One who speaks as directly as Jesus did on behalf of the poor, the sick, the hungry, the landless and downtrodden wretched of the earth. In this shared faith as Christians, we can find strength and unity with all believers and non-believers in serving humankind.

It is a common cause of uplifting the dignity of every individual, especially of the destitute, and taking a stand against the exploitation of human persons, especially of women and children that will unite us. We need to work together in what unifies us rather than be isolated by what divides us.

The visit is clearly a recognition of the strong faith and commitment of the great Catholics to be found in the UK, [who] despite their small numbers have bravely upheld with fortitude, and have given witness to the faith and strengthened the moral fibre of the nation.

They have supported the missionary work abroad with generosity, dedication and commitment. The Catholic media ought to be recognised and blessed by the Pope for its role in standing up for Gospel values in the face of a cynical and critical secular society.

And one last word in recognition of the thousands of immigrants, who over the years have helped build up the Catholic Church in the UK.

The Irish by their hundreds of thousands and the thousands of Filipino overseas workers who joyfully practice their faith in Catholic communities all over the country, all deserve a special recognition and blessing during the Pope's visit.

They are present, singing, praying mingling and sharing friendship and their love of community.


(c) Shay Cullen is a Columban priest and director of the human rights centre PREDA, which is best known for its campaign work and investigations into syndicates and paedophile rings, its rescue and rehabilitation of children, and for bringing successful prosecutions against Filipino and foreign offenders. Visit www.preda.org for more related articles. Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times and in publications in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.