Archbishop Nichols urges faithful to offer to pray for people and make the Sign of the Cross in public
Catholics in London are being encouraged to make their faith more visible in daily life in the aftermath of the Pope’s state visit to Britain.
They should offer to pray for people, bless themselves openly with the Sign of the Cross or make such remarks to people as “God bless you”.
The suggestions were made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster in a pastoral letter read out in the 214 parishes of his diocese, which covers London north of the Thames, during Masses last weekend.
“With the blessings of this visit we can be more confident in our faith and more ready to speak about it and let it be seen each day,” the Archbishop said in his letter.
“A small step we can all take is to be quicker to say to others that we will pray for them, especially to those in distress,” he said. “Prayer is the first fruit of faith in the Lord and we grow so much by giving prayer its place in our homes and in our hearts.
“Even the simple step of more regularly using the greeting ‘God bless you’, gently and naturally, would make a difference to the tone we set in our daily lives as would the more frequent use of the Sign of the Cross. Making faith visible is so much a part of the invitation the Holy Father has extended to us all.”
He explained that Catholics should see such public witness as a response to Pope Benedict XVI’s wish, expressed during his visit, that they became “ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness”.
The letter represents the first address on the subject of the papal visit by the Archbishop, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, to the people of his archdiocese since the Pope departed.
In the letter he thanked Queen Elizabeth II for inviting the Pope to England and Scotland along with everyone who played a part in preparing for the visit “through difficulties, doubts and criticism” as well as those who attended papal events or who turned out to see the Pontiff.
He said the Pope’s presence had “brought such joy and given a great boost to so many”.
“The Holy Father has given us new heart for our mission,” Archbishop Nichols said, adding that in his address Westminster Cathedral the Pope “spelt out that task” that lay ahead. “He said we are to be witnesses to the beauty of holiness, to the splendour of the truth and to the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ,” he explained.
He recalled the “beauty of holiness” during such moments as the prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, when 80,000 people prayed in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. “We witness best to the splendour of the truth of our faith when we follow the example given by Pope Benedict,” he said. “In speaking of our faith he was always so gentle and courteous, so sensitive to the achievements and anxieties of his listeners, so clear and reasoned in presenting difficult points, so humble and open-hearted. We must strive for these same qualities when speaking about our faith, in witnessing to its truth.”
He said the Pope had shown what Christian “joy and freedom” meant by his “unfailing generosity” in responding to individuals and crowds. “I thank God for our Pope and for all the blessings of this visit from which we have so much to ponder and learn for a long time to come,” the Archbishop said.
The call to make faith more visible is likely to be interpreted as an attempt to counter a trend, which had gathered pace under the last government, to squeeze religion from public life. This saw Christians of all denominations endure harassment, suspension, dismissal, arrest and rejection after publicly expressing their beliefs.
Caroline Petrie, a nurse from Weston-super-Mare who is also a Baptist, was last year suspended and disciplined by the North Somerset Primary Care Trust after she offered to pray for an elderly patient.
The right of Christians to assert their beliefs in public was one of the key themes of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain. He raised the subject during an address to a civic audience in Westminster Hall, close to the spot where St Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535 after refusing to condone the adultery of King Henry VIII.
Evangelical Christians, many of whom have suffered under new equality and human rights legislation, are aiming to reclaim their place in the public arena with their “Not Ashamed” campaign which will be launched by Christian Concern for Our Nation.
Announcing the campaign spokeswoman Andrea Minichiello Williams said: “There is growing pressure in our society to remove Jesus Christ (and the values and truths revealed through Him) from public life and to restrict Him to the domain of the ‘private and personal’.
“Increasingly, Christians are finding that they are barred from the workplace and community involvement if they are not prepared to compromise the biblical teaching on belief and behaviour.
“Meanwhile our society continues to fragment and faces enormous change and challenge. Yet in some quarters of the Church there seems to be a collapse in confidence that Jesus Christ really is ‘good news’ for individuals and for our nation as a whole.”
She said that the group was encouraging its supporters to wear crosses on December 1, the launch date.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is writing a booklet explaining why Christians are “not ashamed” of Jesus Christ and MPs will be presented with a declaration by the group.