The papal visit made Britain more open to the spiritual life, the Archbishop of Westminster has said.
Speaking in an interview with the news agency Zenit, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said that the Pope’s visit to Britain led to “a more ready recognition of the spiritual dimension to human life”.
The archbishop said that Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain in September gave British Catholics a renewed sense of identity and also allowed British society as a whole to recognise the value of relationships and communities.
He said: “I think what people saw was that despite the apparent anonymity of so much of British society, here was a community that expressed itself strongly with bonds of friendship and acceptance, and that has awakened in people the desire to work a little bit more on their families, on their quality of relationship.”
Archbishop Nichols said that Pope Benedict had also laid the framework for a dialogue between society and “faith communities”.
The Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Government’s role was to create “a culture of greater social responsibility and that the faith communities were the architects of that culture”, the archbishop said.
He said “I think there is in Britain today a new openness to the role that communities of faith can make to the common good.”
Pope Benedict, he said, shared a love for the Church and the search for truth with Blessed John Henry Newman. He said both Blessed John Henry and the Pope had a “similar openess of mind towards how to approach other people and speak to them”.
Asked how Blessed John Henry could be a model for British Catholics today, the archbishop quoted Pope Benedict speaking about Blessed John Henry on the papal plane, saying that two of the Pope’s phrases had stayed in his mind.
He said: “He said, first of all, Newman is a man of modernity. Now by that he means Newman is a man who lived within sight of the circumstances in which atheism would be a real possibility and in which agnosticism had begun to be experienced. So Newman is a man who struggled with a setting for Christianity which we are all very familiar with. He foresaw it and struggled with it in his time.”
Archbishop Nichols also said that Blessed John Henry was “a man for whom the formulas of the past were not sufficient”. He said Blessed John Henry did not represent a return to the past but an exploration “in utter fidelity to the past, an expression and an experience of faith which is attractive and open to the minds of today”.