By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Pope Benedict XVI’s historic trip to England was more successful than anyone hoped, with most of the once-hostile British media gushing over with praise for the pontiff and the people in this secular nation admitting that the man left them “spellbound.”
Reports are pouring in from all corners of the globe about the resounding success of the Pope’s visit to the UK last week. The New York Times’ Ross Douthat says the pope held Britain spellbound and made the anti-pope rallies and demonstrations look like little more than “a sideshow to the visit.” The brief scare of an assassination plot only served to show the British people “what real religious extremism looks like.”
Catherine Pepinster, editor the The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, said the pontiff shed his “Rottweiler” image during the trip. “What the visit accomplished above all was to unify Catholics and humanise a pope who has so often been perceived as cold, aloof and authoritarian,” she wrote.
“The fabled Vatican ‘Rottweiler’ turned out to be a shy, warm and frail 83-year-old who perked up every time his security detail allowed him to greet people, especially youngsters and his own generation.”
London’s Times daily agreed. “Ratzinger the rottweiler transformed into Benny the bunny,” the paper enthused. “We all want to cuddle up to him and get him to bless our babies.”
“This was a much more successful visit than the Roman Catholic hierarchy had dared to hope,” admitted the Daily Mail newspaper.
The Sun echoed the sentiment. “The pontiff’s visit proved much more substantial than anticipated.”
The Vatican apparently knows it went well because the word from the press who accompanied him back to Rome on Sunday evening said the mood on the plane was “celebratory.”
LifeSite’s Hilary White spoke with Jamie Bogle, barrister and president of Britain’s Catholic Union, who said the UK’s atheist liberals will need a long time to get over the positive impact the Pope left on the nation.
” . . . (T)hey thought they were on a winner. They thought they were going to, if not arrest the pope, at least seriously embarrass him,” Bogle said. “And this little guy in white just flattened them. His gentle, calm, soft-spoken approach just won everybody over. And the demonstrations faded away.”
The anti-pope crowd is already resorting to inflating the numbers, saying their demonstration drew 20,000 people when an unofficial police count leaves the Friday rally at no more than 2,000. And all this took place, “while hundreds of thousands lined the route to wave to the pope,” Bogle said. “There were people chasing him down the streets to keep up. It was a knock-out.”
After weeks of shrill attacks and negative press, it seemed as if the British people were ready to hear the other side of the story, which could explain why the trip turned out to be so successful.
Most of the millions who followed the papal trip on television or the internet were eager to listen, said Fr. Hugh Allan, superior of the Norbertine canons in Chelmsford, Essex, who attended some of the events.
“They really wanted to hear him, and that is going to make the difference,” Father Allen told LifeSite. “I’ve heard it from so many people.”
The pope’s message, that Christianity has a foundational place in the building of a just society, was delivered in a soft but firm voice everywhere he went, making his detractors look “ridiculous, like children throwing their toys out of the pram because they couldn’t have their own way,” Fr. Allen said.
Today, the same harsh critics are left speechless, he said. “They’re nonplussed and confused . . . astonished . . . They didn’t expect people to respond as they have done. They don’t understand why the British people listened to him. Why they wanted to see him. Everything the pope said is outside their mindset.”
But in the end, the people heard the message and absorbed it. “He was just stating the truth,” Fr. Allan said. “It’s really swept people off their feet.”
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