Pope John Paul II's visit to the United Kingdom
Pope John Paul II's visit to the United Kingdom in 1982 was the first visit to that country by a reigning pope. John Paul II arrived in the United Kingdom on 28 May 1982, and during his time there visited nine cities, delivering 16 major addresses. Among significant events were a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a joint service alongside the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie at Canterbury Cathedral, meeting with and addressing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at The Mound, and four large open air Masses in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff. Following his six-day visit which took him to locations in England, Scotland and Wales, he returned to the Vatican on 2 June.
Unlike the 2010 papal visit of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II's was a pastoral rather than a state visit, and was consequently funded by the Catholic Church in the UK rather than the Government. The trip was almost cancelled because Britain was then at war with Argentina, which had invaded the British possession of the Falkland Islands. This visit had to be balanced for fairness with an unscheduled trip to Argentina that June. Over 2 million people attended events hosted by the Pope, with the visit said to be the biggest event for British Catholics since their emancipation.
The visit, the first to the United Kingdom made by a reigning pope, was organised, and largely funded, by the Roman Catholic Church at an estimated cost of around £7 million (the equivalent of about £20M in 2010). In contrast to the 2010 visit by Pope Benedict XVI, it was a pastoral rather than a state visit. The Church offered the public free access to all papal events. There were concerns about the Pope's health following an attempt on his life the previous year, and security was of utmost importance during the visit.
The itinerary for the visit was drafted 42 times before the Vatican finally approved it. However, John Paul's trip was nearly cancelled after Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands, and the subsequent war between Britain and Argentina just weeks before it was scheduled to take place. The visit only went ahead after intervention from Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock, and an agreement that the pontiff would not meet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The visit was noteworthy for its reconciliatory character towards the Church of England. When the Pope arrived at Gatwick Airport, the person in the greeting line after Cardinal Basil Hume and Bishop O'Connor of Arundel (in which Roman Catholic diocese the airport is located) was Anglican Bishop Kemp of Chichester (in which Diocese the airport is also located). John Paul II arrived in the United Kingdom on the morning of 28 May 1982, landing at Gatwick Airport. After kissing the runway, he was greeted there by 3,500 singing children. He then travelled from Gatwick Airport railway station to London Victoria by special train on board 975025 Caroline.
During his first day in Britain he departed from his prepared text on three occasions, calling for peace in the Falklands and in Northern Ireland. Also on that day he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. On 29 May John Paul visited Canterbury Cathedral, becoming the first pontiff to do so. In what was an historic occasion he met with Charles, Prince of Wales before attending a ceremony with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie. During the service, the two church leaders renewed their baptismal vows together, knelt in silent prayer at the spot where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, and issued a common declaration, thanking God for "the progress that has been made in the work of reconciliation" between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. Later in the afternoon, he delivered a mass at Wembley Stadium attended by 80,000 people. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands".
He visited Coventry on 30 May, delivering a speech at the city's Baginton Airport which was attended by some 300,000 people. In his address, he described Coventry as a “city devastated by war but rebuilt in hope”. On his arrival in Liverpool in excess of a million spectators lined the route of his journey from the airport at Speke to the city. He attended services at the city's Metropolitan Cathedral and the Anglican Cathedral, choosing to walk between the two. Two thousand people attended his mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral.
On a visit to Manchester on the morning of the following day, he met the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Sir Immanuel Jakobovits at the Convent of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth, before travelling to Heaton Park where he said Mass and ordained twelve men to the priesthood in front of a crowd of more than 200,000 people. He told the new priests; “You must be men of God, his close friends. You must develop daily patterns of prayer, and penance must be a regular part of your life.”
He moved on to Scotland, landing at RAF Turnhouse, and attended several venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow on 31 May and 1 June. The centrepiece of this was an open-air Mass in Glasgow on 1 June. On 31 May he addressed 45,000 young people at Murrayfield and greeted patients at St Joseph's Hospital in Rosewell. The following day he journeyed to Glasgow where he visited the former priests' training college at St Andrew's College, before making his way to Bellahouston Park for the open-air Mass. The Mass was attended by 300,000 people, and saw the Pope presented with several symbolic gifts during the service, including a pipe banner with the Pope's coat of arms, a piece of Caithness glass, a firkin of whisky and a Scotland football shirt. He told worshippers: "As believers, we are constantly exposed to pressures by modern society which would compel us to conform to the standards of this secular age, substitute new proprieties, restrict our aspirations at risk of compromising our Christian conscience."
The Welsh leg of the trip occurred on 2 June with the Pope's arrival in Cardiff. After being awarded the Freedom of Cardiff, John Paul travelled to Ninian Park, home of Cardiff City F.C., where he said Mass and gave a public address. During the service he once again called for peace in the South Atlantic, then called on the young people of Britain, including the crowd of 33,000 in the stadium, to launch a crusade of prayer. He also delivered a message to crowds gathered at Pontcanna Fields, speaking briefly in Welsh to declare "Bendith Duw arnoch" - "the blessing of God be on you" - which was received with enthusiastic applause. In a direct reference to King Henry VIII's book In Defense of the Seven Sacraments for which he received the title Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X, one of the Sacraments was highlighted at each papal venue. And while the Pope avoided any political meetings during his visit, he nevertheless accepted, in Wales, the civic honour of Freeman of the City of Cardiff. Cardiff received its royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1581, several years after she had been declared deposed by Pope Pius V in his bull Regnans in Excelsis.
The speeches for John Paul's visit were written following consultation with British clerics, including the current Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. These were largely well received by the public, with some two million people attending venues to see the Pope and hear him speak. According to the BBC's Michael Hirst, John Paul II's visit to the United Kingdom was the biggest event for British Catholics since their emancipation during the 19th century. In contrast to the generally positive reaction, there were a small number of demonstrations, mostly by supporters of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, and other small groups.
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