It was with great shock and sadness that I learned of the news of Pope Benedict’s abdication on Monday. Pope Benedict has been responsible for the conversion, reversion, vocation and the deepening of faith of many young Catholics in this country.
At the time of his visit to the UK, I was living a life at complete odds to the Church but his powerful homily at Bellahouston Park was the catalyst for my conversion. Through his eloquence, his love and genuine concern for the young Catholics of Scotland, the powerful Truth of the Gospel message crashed into my life. Looking back it was like a moment from Acts of the Apostles, for upon hearing his message, I too was cut to the heart. Like the crowds in Jerusalem, I asked the question, “What must I do?” Through the ministry of Peter’s successor and in the subsequent messages of his UK visit, I found the answer to this question and began an incredible journey back into a living relationship with Christ and His Holy Church. The Holy Father re-ignited the flame of faith in my heart and in a world marked by mediocrity, he challenged me to become a saint.
The Church in England will reap the fruits of his short pontificate for many years to come. We are already seeing the flourishing of new signs of life in the Church in the UK. I think of the many vibrant lay apostolates in the UK: Youth 2000, Take a Stand, Made for Glory, 2nd Friday, Night Fever, 40 Days for Life and so on. These young apostolates are very much influenced by a pontificate which called us to enter into an intimate relationship with Christ, to find our home in the Catholic Church, to live our Catholicism without compromise and to give a bold and courageous witness to the Gospel Truths in a world that so desperately needs Christ.
I know of many young men for whom the Papal Visit or WYD Madrid was the deciding factor in their entering seminary. Indeed the numbers in our seminaries continue to increase each year. Even more recently, the press coverage for the abdication saw many outstanding young Catholics from across the UK interviewed. Through their questioning, many presenters were seeking the “youth of the Church” to call for reform and the modernisation of the Church under a new Pope. What they got was a response from “Generation Benedict”.
Paschal Uche put it rather splendidly when he spoke these words on behalf of all young Catholics in a Channel 4 interview: “We aren’t looking for a Pope who will change the Church’s teaching, what we desire is a Pope who is faithful to the teaching of the Church because we believe that is how God loves us.” These young people aren’t exceptional in any way at all, they are in fact typical of the countless young Catholics in the UK who are proud to be part of “Generation Benedict” and who are striving to be saints fuelled by a love of Christ and planted in the heart of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict will be greatly missed by my generation. He has been a father to us, a man who deeply loved his young people and placed his full confidence in us to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Our continued response to his love will be our parting gift to him and the Church in England will be all the richer for it.