Archbishop Nichols Speaks on Recent Election of Pope Francis (Part I)
By Ann Schneible
ROME, 20 March 2013 (ZENIT)
Three years after Benedict XVI's historic visit to the United Kingdom, British Catholics and non-Catholics alike are coming to embrace the papacy anew in the person of Pope Francis.
It has been one week since the papal election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a man whose simple and accessible language conveys his devotion to the poor, the infirm, and – first and foremost – his desire to lead all people to the merciful heart of God.
President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, was in Rome to attend Tuesday's installation Mass of Pope Francis' ministry as Successor of Peter.
He shared with ZENIT his impressions of the new Holy Father:
ZENIT: What were your initial reactions upon learning that Cardinal Bergoglio had been elected Pope?
Archbishop Nichols: I was outside Westminster Cathedral with a couple of television crews, and they had one of their mobile vans. It was quite difficult to actually hear what was being announced, and I think I was as puzzled as anybody. The next 20 minutes or so were a bit frantic, trying to find out as much as we could about Cardinal Bergoglio.
But my reaction has been the same as everybody else. The taxi driver who brought us into Rome yesterday evening described his effect on the people of Rome. He just said "We are culpito di cuore" [struck to the heart].
What has clearly come across is that Pope Francis' humanity shines through the office of pope. In fact, you could even say that his humanity illuminates the office of pope. And I think that's what people are responding to; over and over again you hear those comments: "He's one like us," "He speaks to us directly," or "He's like a parish priest for the world."
But I also think the content of what he's saying is very important as well. Though just in these first few days, there's a very strong persistency, it seems, in what he says about the mercy and forgiveness that is at the heart of God for each person. That's very much the language of a pastor, the language of a priest who accompanies his people, and walks alongside them. Instinctively, this is very welcomed by those – not just of the Catholic Church – but by most people, all of us who struggle and try to do the best we can. These are very encouraging and uplifting words, and my impression of how people feel is that they are encouraged and uplifted.
ZENIT: Following Benedict's visit to the UK, which had an enormous impact on the people there, from what we've seen over these past few days, what will the pontificate of Pope Francis bring to the people of the UK?
Archbishop Nichols: You're right about the visit of Pope Benedict. I think it gave many people in Britain a chance to see him as he was. And, he left behind him an impression that is quite well expressed in the phrase: "He's just like your favorite grandfather." It was rather lovely to see, in St. Peter's Square, at his last audience, that one of the banners said "Il nonno della Chiesa" ["The grandfather of the Church"]. That impression of Benedict – of his warmth, of his capacity to be almost intimate with people in the way he spoke – I think had a major effect in Britain.
So now, for the first time that I can remember, people from way outside the Catholic community are talking about "our pope." The other day there was a BBC presenter who quite unselfconsciously spoke about "our new pope." There was a Jewish MP in one of the discussion programs who talked about "our new pope." There is kind of a sense of a relationship with the papacy, with the Pope, which is quite astonishing in Britain.
On that Wednesday evening when he was elected, one of the men who attends the Cathedral told me that he walked through the streets of London waving a papal flag as he walked to the Cathedral. He said the response on the streets was one of congratulations and shared joy at the announcement of a pope.
I think the two things are very closely related actually: the way that the people of Britain took Pope Benedict to their heart, and therefore the way they have welcomed Pope Francis.
New Pope's Stance on Marriage Seen as Relevant in Britain
Archbishop Nichols Speaks on Recent Election of Pope Francis (Part II)
By Ann Schneible
ROME, 21 March 2013 (ZENIT)
Though little more than a week has passed since the election of Pope Francis, his papacy is already proving particularly relevant to the people of Britain, suggests the archbishop of Westminster, as that nation faces issues concerning marriage defense, concern for the poor, and interreligious dialogue.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio stood against the Argentine government's proposed legislation to legalize same-sex "marriage." Similarly, the British people are seeking to defend marriage at a time when politicians are actively pushing for legislation to redefine it.
Pope Francis' election comes also at an important time for the Church of England, as he was chosen just over a week before today's enthronement of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.
President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, spoke with ZENIT about what the papacy of Pope Francis means for Britain at this time in history:
ZENIT: While serving as cardinal in Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio stood against the government on various issues, such as same-sex "marriage." What does it mean for the Church in Britain, which is currently facing a similar situation, to have a Pope who has also confronted these issues?
Archbishop Nichols: The efforts and struggle to make clear not simply Catholic belief about marriage, but a human truth about marriage, have been actually quite widely welcomed by many people, but not by the political forces that have the upper hand at the moment. Our experience might be a bit similar to his in Argentina. In Argentina, however, I imagine the culture is fundamentally Catholic, whereas in Britain it's not. In Britain, we do speak much more from the minority position, and in that sense that can be used against us. It's not too difficult for public voices to dismiss our arguments, saying that "Well, they're the Catholics, and they are easily put to one side."
But I think, in this debate, we have actually touched a much deeper and much wider level of opinion that the political process is ignoring. As this legislation comes into effect (we expect), there is quite a deep unease about its possible ramifications in terms of religious freedom, in terms of freedom of expression, and maybe in terms of the shared common fundamental perception of what marriage is about.
ZENIT: Turning now to how the Holy Father is perceived throughout the world with regard to his service of the poor: There are some who see the Church as primarily a humanitarian institution. How can we take the words and actions of Pope Francis, so directed to serving the poor, and understand them within the proper context of the Church's true mission?
Archbishop Nichols: Some of the images he has been using already are very vivid. He has spoke of the fact that, if the Church is not fundamentally centered on Christ, then it is no more than a compassionate NGO. If it's not fundamentally centered on Christ, than what it builds is like a sandcastle on the beach. These are very vivid phrases.
I also noticed when he was speaking to the cardinals, he said that this being built on Christ, centered on Christ, meant being centered on the Cross of Christ. He said "When we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples."
If you place the Cross of Christ central to what he's saying, then it takes us very obviously to his second major point, which is about the mercy of God. In a way, the Cross displays and makes present what he speaks of as the unfathomable mercy of God. As he said on Sunday: God never tires of rendering us forgiveness and mercy. It's that infinite outflow of God's love and mercy, which is portrayed and effected on the Cross.
That's the place where we start to recognize our poverty. The root of our stance toward the needy of the world flows from that point: that the first poverty we have to recognize is [our] own, my own before God. When that is firmly recognized and lived, then, in the words of the Psalm: "Then we will serve the poor in right judgment." But without that sense of my own emptyhandedness before God, service of the poor can lose its purity, and can become sometimes easily rather patronizing.
ZENIT: Could you speak about the relevance of Pope Francis' election coinciding with the enthronement of Justin Welby as the new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury?
Archbishop Nichols: This is obviously a very special week for us in the Catholic Church, but it is also a very momentous week for the Anglican communion – and for the Church of England – because the Archbishop of Canterbury is enthroned on Thursday in Canterbury Cathedral. He's a very different candidate and character to Pope Francis.
At this time, he is leading a pilgrimage of prayer where he is walking with a little entourage through the city centers of some of the cathedral cities in England, simply inviting people to come and pray with him. He's also handing out small candles, saying to people: here, take the candle, take it home, pray: but first, if you can, bring it to the cathedral at lunchtime or this evening. As he said to me, he is trying to do something that's tangible, to actually give people an object that they can hold. I think that's a lovely way of alerting people in our nation to what's going to happen on Thursday.
These two things together – the response of the British public to Pope Francis, and this moment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury – points to a spiritual awareness, and an intuition for the things of faith, which is still actually quite strong. I sometimes say we as Christians shouldn't fashion our relationship with society on the basis of what we read in the media, or on the projections of the media. Underneath that, at a human level, there is a far greater readiness for the things Invisible.
It's also interesting to me that, right at the center of the ceremony of the installation of the new Archbishop of Canterbury – after he takes his oath on a copy of the Gospels brought to Britain by Saint Augustine – he will re-sign a covenant agreement with the other Christian Churches in England. That ecumenical undertaking is placed right at the center of his ceremony of installation.
This is a very important week for us, and one that I know many people will enjoy and many people will be very encouraged by it too.