Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Papal visit leaves a lasting impression

Pope Benedict XVI returned to Rome last night from the United Kingdom after a four-day State visit which went much better than expected.

The crowds which greeted him were larger than anticipated, and he was given a warm greeting at every stage, from the initial welcome by the Queen to the farewell address by Prime Minister David Cameron.

There were important milestones, including the first day in Scotland, the address to the leaders of UK society in Westminster Hall, and the ecumenical prayers with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey.

There was also the impressive service at Westminster Cathedral, and also in Birmingham for the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

These were all major set-pieces, and one of the key themes of Benedict XVI was the role of religion in contemporary society.

He warned of the dangers of marginalising Christianity, and encouraged an important debate "between faith and reason at every stage of national life".

Significantly, the Pope spoke frankly of the sorrow and shame within the Catholic Church over the clerical paedophile scandals, but he declined to apologise about the cover-ups. His words will not have healed the wounds of all of the abused, but his reassurance was clear that this would not happen again.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the visit was the personal impression made by Pope Benedict himself as a caring and charming leader, who showed a personal warmth to all those he met.

The major problems facing the Catholic Church will continue, but the legacy of Pope Benedict's visit will linger on, and not least in his central challenge to all sides about the role and importance of religion in a modern, multi-cultural society.

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