On Sept. 8, the last full day of The Catholic Messenger Pilgrimage to Ireland, the Queen of England died. During their pilgrimage, the 33 participants learned of the impact of hundreds of years of England’s oppression toward the Catholic people of Ireland. Contrast that history with the more recent history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who demonstrated “a quiet diplomacy — a ministry — of reconciliation,” as Father James Hanvey, SJ, writes in America magazine (Sept. 12). Her ministry of reconciliation serves as a guide for the rest of us — royalty or not.
Queen Elizabeth’s deep, abiding Christian faith and dedication to the service of others formed the foundation of her approach to leadership as the reigning British monarch for 70 years. We may call ourselves people of faith but the title rings hollow unless we convert our words into reconciling actions toward others, which she did.
She was the first British sovereign to welcome a pope to England when she greeted Pope Saint John Paul II in London in 1982, according to Catholic News Service (CNS). In 2000, she met again with him at the Vatican, both expressing hopes “that the jubilee year would bring progress in Christian unity and in assistance to the world’s poorest people.” She wrote in her speech to the pope, “As Christians of the 21st century, we are called anew to follow our Lord’s teaching and, by standing with those in suffering, need and distress, to build a world more worthy of its Creator.” She spoke of the progress made in overcoming historic differences between Anglicans and Roman Catholics and noted that religion “may sometimes be a source of division but it can also be a powerful source of healing” (CNS, 10-17-2000).
Two years later, she invited Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Conner of Westminster to preach at her country estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, in another effort to promote Christian churches toward unity. It was the first time since the Reformation that a Catholic leader had been invited by a British monarch to preach. The invitation came just days before the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (CNS, 1-14-02).
Queen Elizabeth honored a diocesan priest in Northern Ireland in 2008 “for his services to a community wrought by sectarian violence.” The honoree, Father Paul Symonds, received his award for work with Catholics and Protestants in an area where Catholics had endured sustained campaigns of intimidation (CNS, 1-03-08).
In 2010, she welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Britain when he arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, giving official status to his state visit. He said at the time that the queen’s gesture expresses “the common responsibility of politics and religion for the future of the continent and the future of humanity. Our high and common responsibility is to see that the values that create justice and politics, and those that come from religion, walk together in our time” (CNS, 10-07-10).
The queen traveled to Ireland in 2011, the first British monarch to do so in a century. There she viewed St. Patrick’s crosier in the Hall of the Vicars Choral at the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, a site The Catholic Messenger pilgrims visited. (CNS, 5-20-11).
Father Hanvey, in his article for America, praised Queen Elizabeth for that historic visit. He said, “In her presence and gestures there was healing and reconciliation of a still painfully alive history between the two nations and between the North and the South. As with so many of her subjects and citizens of the Republic, it was a personal as well as political history, something she acknowledged in her speech at Dublin Castle. ‘Indeed, so much of this visit reminds us of the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions,’ she said, ‘but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation. Of being able to bow to the past but not be bound by it.’”
Forbearance and conciliation won’t change the past but they will make the future better in Ireland and everywhere in the world where England’s overreach harmed people. Queen Elizabeth set the example over decades of a ministry of reconciliation.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor