How does one sum up the papal visit in a few words? A survey of the four days, event by event – four days which began (so far as I am concerned) in anxiety which quickly turned to relief and ended finally in euphoria – simply can’t be done in less than the length of a short book, and I have only 400 or 500 words for this post, though in the print edition of the paper which appears later this week I shall be given more than double the space for an extended version of it, in which I shall look also at the very interesting coverage of the visit by the secular media. That aspect of the visit will have to be briefly summarised here by the words of Dr George Carey in the News of the World: “he came, he saw, he conquered”.
The richness, volume and sheer variety of the teaching the Pope gave us, and its perfect suitability for each of its many very different audiences, ranging from his intellectually hugely impressive address to the leaders of civil society in Westminster Hall to his call to that enthusiastic audience of schoolchildren to aim at becoming saints, was astonishing. And perhaps the first thing that needs to be said is that this was above all a personal triumph for the Holy Father himself. What came over consistently was the huge warmth, the seemingly inexhaustible loving kindness of the Pope’s gentle but nevertheless powerful personality. After all the caricatures, the man emerged.
Despite his intellectual impressiveness, which was evident throughout, everyone now knows that this is no withdrawn, scholarly rigorist, incapable of relating to people or understanding their lives: this alleged coldness, it was widely claimed, was what explained the supposed lack of enthusiasm about the visit, even among Catholics.
Well, we will hear no more now about his purported lack of charisma, an assessment invariably followed with a comparison, to Pope Benedict’s disadvantage, with John Paul II. Pope Benedict is, we have now all seen, hugely charismatic: but his charisma is of a different kind, less dramatic, less forcefully energetic than that of Pope John Paul.
Of course; they were always very different men: but Pope Benedict has all the charisma he needs, and in both the senses given by the Oxford Dictionary: 1) “a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others” and 2) “a divinely conferred power or talent”. For, in the end, let us never forget that what we have witnessed has come from God, whose presence has been very close throughout not only to the Pope himself but also to all who were praying for his success – protecting, inspiring, allaying our fears and in the end fulfilling all our hopes.