A New Era in Relations between the Holy See and British Government Celebrated in Rome

An important and memorable Colloquium “Britain and the Holy See: a Celebration of 1982 and the Wider Relationship”, masterminded by H E Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See, was  held at the Venerable English College, Rome, on Friday, 30 March 2012. Coincidentally, this year marks the 650th anniversary of the foundation of the Venerable English College as a hospice for pilgrims.

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H E Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See, who masterminded the successful Colloquium, held at the Venerable English College, Rome, on Friday 30 March 2012.

The all-day event marked, as well as celebrated the 30th anniversary of the upgrade of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See at Ambassadorial Level; and the 30th Anniversary of the historic six-day Pastoral Visit by Blessed John Paul II to Great Britain, 30 May to 2 June 1982, during which the Polish Pope visited England, Scotland and Wales at the height of the Falkland conflict in the South Atlantic.

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The Right Reverend Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham and the Most Reverend Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow, pictured in the garden of the Venerable English College during the Colloquium.

During the first session: “1982, The First Papal Visit and its Impact”, Archbishop Mario Conti, Archbishop of  Glasgow, Bishop Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, gave an incisive overview. The Moderator, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, also added his thoughts.

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His Eminence Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, pictured during the Colloquium organised by the British Embassy to the Holy See.

On 1 April 1982, a few weeks before Blessed Pope John Paul II arrived in Great Britain, Sir Mark Heath had presented his Credentials to the Holy Father as the First British Ambassador to the Holy See. This almost un-noticed event ushered in the start of a new era in the relationship between the Crown and the Holy See going back many centuries. It was in 1479 that King Edward IV appointed Sir John Shirwood as his Ambassador to the Pope – England’s first resident Ambassador overseas.

Ambassador Nigel Baker, who took up his appointment in September 2011 emphasised during his short, and thought-provoking introduction to the programme, that: “We look backwards to understand today and our tomorrows.” The Ambassador announced that the proceedings of the Colloquium would be published in a special publication.

The historic and tremendously successful four-day, State Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom – Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham, 16 to 19 September 2010, marked a new high-point in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.

The highlights of the visit included the meeting with The Queen at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, the Address given by Pope Benedict to the leaders of civil society in Britain in Westminster Hall, in the Palace of Westminster and the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman in Cofton Park on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Ambassador Baker said that this State Visit by Pope Benedict was an important step in the strengthening of the strong bilateral relationship which the UK and the Holy See enjoy today.

He particularly drew the attention of the distinguished speakers, guests and members of the media, who packed the Garden Room at the English College, to the wide-ranging areas of common interest between the British Government and the Holy See, contained in the joint communique issued at the end of the high-powered British Government Ministerial Delegation’s visit to the Holy See on 14-15 February this year.

The notable speakers at the session, “Vatican II, 1982 and Now: The Ecumenical Relationship”, were  Bishop Christopher Hill the Anglican Bishop of Guildford, and Mgr Mark Langham of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. The Moderator was Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See.

The speakers during the afternoon session on the subject,  “The Diplomatic and Political Relationship”, were Professor Norman Tanner, SJ – “The Long View”, and Mr Mark Pellew, British Ambassador to the Holy See 1998-2002 – “The 20th Century”. The outstanding address by Mr Pellew included new information and personal recollections.

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H E Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See pictured with (left to right) the Right Reverend Christopher Hill, Anglican Bishop of Guildford, Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, and Mgr Mark Langham, of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

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Mr Mark Pellew, British Ambassador to the Holy See 1998-2002, pictured during the Colloquium.

The speakers during the fourth and final session, “From Consalvi to Newman: the 19th Century”, were Professor Judith Champ from St Mary’s College Oscott (the seminary in the Archdiocese of Birmingham) and Professor Eamon Duffy of Cambridge University.  Mgr Canon Charles Burns was the Moderator.

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Mgr Canon Charles Burns and Professor Eamon Duffy pictured during the Colloquium.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was the Celebrant at Vespers held in the College Chapel, and Bishop Christopher Hill, the Anglican Bishop of Guildford, preached the sermon. The occasion concluded with a most convivial Celebratory Dinner in the College refectory at which Mgr Nicholas Hudson, Rector of the Venerable English College, welcomed a number of the distinguished guests by name including the American Ambassador to the Holy See, H E Dr Miguel Diaz, and Lady Nicholas Windsor.

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His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, pictured during the Colloquium.

During his speech H E Nigel Baker, the dynamic British Ambassador to the Holy See said: “The British Embassy to the Holy See most definitely punches above its weight.” He and his small team can be justifiably proud of this most worthwhile Colloquium.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols spoke about the success of the State Visit by Pope Benedict XVI during September 2011. He mentioned the difficulties during the early planning stages but emphasised the outstanding success of the Visit.

Asked for his thoughts about the Colloquium, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “This was an excellent event and I am grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for its support of this initiative.  It showed British diplomacy at its best.”

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales added: “I believe that relations between the Holy See and the British Government are very positive.  The recent visit to the Holy See of Her Majesty’s Government’s Delegation was a great success and demonstrated substantial areas of common interest in the service of the common good.”

At no time during the Colloquium did Bishop Christopher Hill, the Anglican Bishop of Guildford, who has contributed so much to Anglican Roman Catholic relations since 1982, minimise the very serious new obstacles that Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, had put in the pathway to full Unity with the Church of Rome. Mgr Mark Langham, of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, also spoke with equal frankness.

One of the most striking characteristics about this Colloquium was the refreshing honesty and candour in which everyone spoke or asked questions. This would not have happened without the trust, confidence and friendships that have been carefully built-up and nurtured during the past thirty years!

About the author

Peter Jennings is a well known Catholic journalist, writer, broadcaster and PR consultant. Based in Birmingham UK.

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