The Rev'd Dilys Woodmore talks about the Pope's visit
Now that the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI is over, it's time to reflect on the effect that the visit has achieved.
Many were sceptical about the visit from the outset for various reasons and predicted that there would be little interest shown in comparison with the last pastoral papal visit in 1982.
The difference between the world we live in now with that of 28 years ago is as marked as the difference in the personalities of Pope John Paul II and the present Pope.
It has been such a refreshing experience to see the headline news and front page articles covering the visit. So often religion is relegated to little snippets on the inside pages unless, of course, there's some scandal or issue threatening to bring the whole of the church to the brink of extinction.
To see joyful people claiming their Christian heritage has been uplifting not only to the Roman Catholics but to Christians of all denominations. Other faith communities will welcome the endorsement of faith as being a force for good rather than division, and those of no faith will have had the opportunity to engage with the message of love, peace and reconciliation that has been at the heart of the Pope's message.
The Pope's counter cultural message has challenged the 'aggressive secular' society and the obsession of society today with consumerism and celebrity.
Now that the visit has ended and the stage sets have been dismantled and packed away, the hard part of the Pope's mission, that of re- engaging with faith in renewed confidence will be the main priority. Other Christians will have also taken this message to heart too. We need to stand up for our belief and not be intimidated by all the negative criticism that we have faced in the recent tide of secularism. The church is not a perfect institution, and never will be, because it's made up of human beings who are by nature sinful and frail.
It was interesting to note that Pope Benedict's visit was not about open evangelism for the Catholic faith but more about facilitating the interdependency of the church and civil society. He spoke about a society where everyone is valued and has equal worth, where people support each other and care for the most vulnerable amongst us. All faiths and none would surely support that model of society because it relies on the basic goodness that is found within each and every one of us.
As we reflect on the values of our Christian heritage we realise how precious they are and how important it is that they should be upheld. Those moments of joy in the drama of the mass and in the depths of the silence of the prayer vigils all speak to us of a profound engagement with the God who we worship in and through Jesus Christ.
So will this visit change anything? I think the answer lies in how the hearts and minds of us all have witnessed something creative and essential to our human soul. Maybe just the re-evaluation of how we behave in relation to others, how we prioritise what is life giving and life affirming and how we can serve the wider community will bring us closer to God.
Our politicians and government leaders cannot have failed to notice the over-riding positive mood of the country to this Papal visit and that religion rather than being divisive and a problem can be a unifying and positive force for the well being of the nation.
We have much to be thankful for and as Anglicans, facing our own issues and problems that threaten to tear the church apart we can learn again from the model of patient listening, attentiveness to the other point of view and above all, love for each other in Jesus our Lord.