We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning of the Pope Emeritus, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. This news will be of great sadness to our University community, many of whom met and were directly impressed by the thoughtfulness and care Pope Benedict XVI demonstrated on his visit to the University during his State Visit to the United Kingdom in 2010.
During his visit to the campus, Pope Benedict hosted three events for religious leaders and Catholic school children from across the country to share messages of love, dialogue and the importance of following the way of Christ.
His visit began with a Prayer Service in the University Chapel. During the service, Pope Benedict presented the University with a mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. This is hung near the entrance to the University Chapel, a permanent reminder of the papal visit and a prompt to prayer and peaceful reflection.
Following Mass, Pope Benedict held The Big Assembly on what is now the Sir Mo Farah Athletics Track. This saw 3,500 school children from across the country host a school assembly to celebrate Catholic education in the UK and the outstanding work that takes place in Catholic schools, colleges, and higher education institutions across the country.
This event holds special significance for me as I had the honour of attending with a school group. I recall everyone at the event being deeply touched by the significance of the presence of the Holy Father at St Mary’s. The event was relayed to Catholic schools across the country.
Pope Benedict’s visit to St Mary’s was concluded by his hosting an interfaith forum in the Waldegrave Drawing Room. This saw leaders of Christian denominations and other faiths including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism come together. The Holy Father asked the forum to share his vision for religious freedom to be respected throughout the world.
The papal visit has had a lasting legacy at the University. Although already engaged in interfaith dialogue, the visit gave new life to our mission in this area. The University regularly hosts guest lectures from faith leaders and religious experts, including the Ecumenical Patriarch His All Holiness Bartholomew I, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Richard Clark, and Baroness Sayeedi Warsi, amongst many others.
The University also established the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society on the fifth anniversary of the visit. The Centre is an international hub for research and public engagement activities in the areas of religion and the social sciences, primarily economics, anthropology, sociology and political science. It regularly publishes research, which shapes the national debate on a range of issues including faith participation amongst the young, the impact of free school meals, and how chaplains support seafaring communities in the UK.
Most recently the University celebrated the tenth anniversary in 2020 of the Holy Father’s visit to campus through The Big Assembly 2020, which was celebrated by the University’s Chancellor HE Cardinal Vincent Nichols. This special event gave the University a chance to reflect on the significance of our relationship with Pope Benedict XVI and to share the spirit of the message he shared with the crowd at the original Big Assembly with a new generation of school children.
In his address to schoolchildren at St. Mary’s University, Pope Benedict XVI said: “When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others.” Just as he invited others to do, the late Pope Emeritus devoted his life to Christ and His Church as an outstanding theologian, as an academic with an unswerving devotion to his students, and as a great pastor who ultimately became pope at a time of great challenges to the Church in the West. We pray for the repose of his eternal soul , and we continue to pray for his successor, Pope Francis. This is a time of sadness but also of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gifts given to the Church through the ministry of Benedict XVI.
The Chaplaincy will celebrate Mass in memorial of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the coming days, details of which will be communicated by the team. The Chaplaincy Team are available to provide support at this time of loss and mourning, and I encourage anyone affected by this news to seek support as follows:
Tel: 020 8240 4002
You can also access free and confidential support 24/7 from the University support programmes for students and staff.
May he rest in peace,