Benedict's visit to the UK was "dramatic and unforgettable"
Bishop Mark Davies, born in Manchester in 1959, has been a priest since 1984; appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Shrewsbury in 2009, he became the eleventh Bishop of Shrewsbury on 1 October 2010, just weeks after Pope Benedict visited England and beatified Bl. John Henry Newman.
All of us, I think, reacted to Pope Benedict’s announcement with shock before reflecting more deeply on it. Had you foreseen the possibility of this happening, and now that you’ve had time for the news to settle in, do you see this as a positive decision for the Church?
I think most of the world was shaken by the Holy Father’s announcement. I am sure the first reaction of all of us was sadness that the Holy Father was unable to continue; sadness to hear the Pope speak of diminishing strength, but also trusting his judgment made before God that this decision was for the sake of the Church and would ultimately be for the good of the Church. It struck me that this great teacher was also reminding us how the office and ministry of Peter continues in the Church as individual popes come and go throughout history. Our confidence is to be placed where Pope Benedict places his whole confidence: in Christ our Lord, the eternal Pastor.
Obviously, it could take decades before we can fairly judge Pope Benedict’s legacy, but in the short term, what do you think his greatest achievements have been, and how do you think he will be remembered?
I believe the most enduring legacy of Pope Benedict’s pontificate will be found in the clarity and beauty of his teaching. We have received from Pope Benedict so much doctrine (clearly expressed), such beautiful catechesis and so many simple and profound reflections on the Saints and Fathers of the Church. I think that just as Pope Benedict directs us to the teaching documents of the Second Vatican Council to appreciate its lasting legacy, so future generations will find in the body of Benedict’s teaching the lasting legacy of his pontificate. We might also think of his remarkable trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth, written (perhaps uniquely) during the course of his pontificate under his own name of Joseph Ratzinger.
What do you think Benedict’s successor’s greatest concerns should be, and what qualities will his successor need to meet these challenges?
Amongst the first concerns of the new Pope will, I suspect, be to reflect on the recent Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation. It was a priority of Pope Benedict’s pontificate to address the need for nothing less than a new evangelisation in countries like our own. I have no doubt this will continue to be a clear priority for the new Holy Father. The quality of courage that Pope Benedict insisted was most needed in bishops is surely the quality most needful for his successor in the See of St. Peter. In my own first meeting with Pope Benedict shortly before I was ordained bishop three years ago, “courage” was the word he constantly repeated.
Given the radical difference between the health and character of the Church in what we might term ‘the West’ and in the global South, how might Pope Benedict’s successor work to maintain the unity of the Universal Church?
The Holy See has a unique oversight of the Universal Church, and I am certain a deeper appreciation than a local bishop in England of those wider challenges being faced across “the West” and the global South. I believe, however, the greatest need in every place on earth is essentially the same: for that increase of faith, which the Apostles asked of Our Lord, and for greater faithfulness in all our vocations. By such faith and faithfulness the unity of the Universal Church is maintained. It is always an essential part of the mission of the Successor of St. Peter to confirm his brethren in faith, just as Our Lord promised.
Pope Benedict’s visit to England in September 2010 was a success few people had expected; how do you think the Church in England has built on those few dramatic days, and how might it continue to do so?
The Papal visit to Britain in September 2010 will be the lasting memory of Pope Benedict for so many in these islands. They were dramatic and unforgettable days when the gentle, humble and serene presence of Peter’s Successor, Pope Benedict XVI, gave new heart to so many. I was received by the Pope with a hundred or so other new bishops at his summer residence in the days immediately before his British visit. I was conscious of the hostility manifest in many parts of the media as I returned home to Britain. However, the Pope came and gave the Church in this land the encouragement to stand up in witness to our faith especially in the public forum. I think of the young people who told me those days of the Papal Visit had been the greatest moments of their lives not because they simply saw the Pope, but because they had the courage to stand with him in faith. This is surely the pre-requisite for the New Evangelisation and it is, I believe, what we are still building upon in the Catholic Church in England.
Last week, addressing the priests of Rome, Pope Benedict chatted informally about his experiences in the Second Vatican Council, distinguishing between what he called the ‘Council of the Fathers’ and the ‘Council of the Media’, arguing that the latter has become dominant in the popular mind, even when it did not truly reflect the experiences, intentions and decisions of the Council Fathers. Some might argue that he is merely seeking to rewrite history, and that he has in fact sought to undermine and even reverse the Council: what were your thoughts on the Holy Father’s analysis of the Second Vatican Council and how we are called to fulfil it?
Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Bl. John Paul II, said the Council could only be truly understood as a spiritual event. I think we can appreciate from this observation the distinction Pope Benedict makes between the Council as it was reflected by the media and the Council known and experienced by the Fathers. It is necessary, I believe, to distinguish the human elements of any General Council of the Church, which often draws the interest of journalists and even historians from the Divine purpose. Pope Benedict points to the enduring testimony of the Second Vatican Council in its teaching documents. I wouldn’t see this as an attempt to re-write the history of the Council, but rather a recovery of the true story and testimony of the Second Vatican Council.