David Cameron has told Pope Benedict XVI in a powerful farewell speech that his visit had made Britain “sit up and think”.
The Prime Minister said to the Pope: “You have spoken to a nation of six million Catholics, but you have been heard by a nation of over 60 million citizens.”
He cited the Pope’s speech in Westminster Hall on Friday, saying that “faith is not a problem for legislators to solve but rather a vital part of our national conversation”.
He said the Pope’s lesson for Britons had been “to follow our conscience, to ask not what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities; to ask not what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for others”.
Mr Cameron also appeared to link the Pope’s message to the Big Society, referring to a “new culture of social responsibility that we want to build in Britain”.
“People of faith are great architects of that culture,” he said. “For many faith is a spur to action… Faith is part of the fabric of our country: it always has been and it always will be.”
The Prime Minister said he looked forward to “ever closer co-operation” with the Holy See on issues such as climate change and development.
He said the Pope had made Britain “sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing”. “Your presence here has been a great honour for our country,” he said. “It has left us with strong and positive memories.”
Mr Cameron described Britain as a country that “cherishes faith” and that is also “deeply and quietly compassionate”.
“I see that compassion in the incredible response to the floods in Pakistan, in the spirit of community in countless good deeds done for friends and neighbours every day. I see this compassion and generosity in the many, many kind messages I have had as I cradled a new daughter and said goodbye to a father.”
In his own farewell speech Pope Benedict thanked Mr Cameron and said he hoped his visit would help strengthen relations between Britain and the Holy See – “especially in co-operation for international development, in care for the natural environment, and in the building of a civil society with a renewed sense of shared values and common purpose”.
He said finally: “As I take my leave of you, let me assure you once again of my good wishes and prayers for the peace and prosperity of Great Britain. Thank you very much and God bless you all!”