for The Vaishnava Voice on Sept. 16, 2010
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, left, accompanies Pope Benedict XVI, center, during his visit to England.
Last month, while I was in Rome, I was able to have a morning audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. I have always wanted to meet the spiritual leader of two billion people so it was a rewarding event. In the afternoon I was invited to take a vegetarian lunch deep inside the heart of the Vatican.
The spiritual experience was only slightly diluted by the presence of 50,000 other people there at the same time. And I was standing at the back. The lunch was in the Vatican cafeteria.
I have always wanted to be in St. Peter’s Square when the Pope gives a blessing. As readers will already know, I like blessings – and who better to bless you than the Holy Father himself?
On this occasion it was 50,000 Germans waving flags and cheering their leader on a balcony who was giving a rousing speech in German. So spiritually invigorating – and ever so slightly chilling at the same time.
I love good oratory, and I like spectacle and music and flag-waving. And when it’s all combined to honour God’s representative on earth I’m a real sucker.
But I most likely won’t be at any of the events taking place over the next week when the Pope visits Britain – the first Pontiff to do so for 28 years, and the first Pope to come on a state visit. I am very happy for those that will, though. Everyone’s faith needs a boost in these atheistic times, and as the representative of Jesus Christ walks amongst those of flagging faith, you can bet that many will experience a religious re-awakening – and that can only be a good thing.
As Vaishnavas we feel unity with the Pope and his mission, even as we recognize the divergence of theology and approach. In loyal defence of his own tradition, and in keeping with his history as Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, he may have relegated other religions as being ‘gravely deficient’ but one of his several titles is ‘Servant of the servants of God’ and we appreciate the humility in that term.
It can’t be easy being the head of the Catholic Church at this point in history. Ravaged by repeated scandal of the worst kind, and unable to placate the numerous victims or accusers, the Church struggles to hold its position of trust. Criticized even by altruists for its unfashionable firmness on religious principles, and relegated by intellectuals as adherents of medieval nonsense, the Church is embattled, but has sufficient genuine spiritual power to survive and prosper.
I wish the Pope well when he arrives in Britain on Thursday.