A Papal State Visit or a Beatification are significant occasions for any Catholic community, but the two combined makes for something very special indeed. When we found out officially that Pope Benedict XVI was to visit St Mary’s we were all delighted and looking forward to the privilege of welcoming the Holy Father to the University.
The Pope was to start his visit to St Mary’s praying with representatives of religious congregations, including those who have a charism for education and the history of education, in the University Chapel (see video below).
Before the arrival of the Pope we sang Morning Prayer in the Chapel and, it was with great joy that the Holy Father walked down the centre aisle to greet all who were assembled, what an amazing moment.
The Pope paid tribute to the outstanding contribution made by religious orders to education in the United Kingdom. He spoke of his "deep appreciation for all the dedicated men and women who devote themselves to teaching the young people." The Holy Father’s words, as always, were gentle and on this occasion filled with gratitude for the work of religion especially in education.
He spoke about the work of Mary Ward (foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary whom he declared 'venerable' in 2009) and said: "I myself as a young boy was taught by the English ladies and I owe them a deep debt of gratitude."
The Holy Father went on to say that: "The life of the faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust." He said that he prayed this may continue to be a ‘hallmark’ of Catholic schools in the country.
Pope Benedict presented the University with a mosaic picture depicting the Madonna del Popolo which is taken from an ancient Byzantine icon venerated in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. The mosaic picture was produced by the experts of the Vatican mosaic studio in 1991.
The music was led by the Choir and the Music Group on the day and, for all who were gathered it was a wonderful experience and we are very grateful for the wise words which this gentle Pope shared with us during his time of prayer in the University Chapel.
One of the hopes of the Visit was that it would encourage ‘positive outcomes’ and, I am sure that for many who greeted the Pope at St Mary’s and beyond this will be a phrase that we will be hearing a great deal of in the months and years to come.