Good News from the Vatican is rare, so I am delighted to share it when I can. Here in the UK, many Brits like to think that when it comes to grand displays of public pomp and splendour, they have cornered the market. They do very well out of it too, with the royal pageantry in all its splendid permutations for every possible occasion a major tourist drawcard – and good money spinner as a result. Add in the peculiar traditions and ceremonial dress for the opening of parliament, the Chelsea Pensioners, and the Tower of London with the Beefeaters, and you could be excused for thinking that dressing up and elaborate role play were compulsory for any half-way important visitor: many visiting heads of tin pot banana republics see their reception at a state banquet at Buck house as a highlight of their public careers. Even the “Lord” mayor, an entirely ceremonial position representing only the square mile of the “City” of London, i.e. the financial district, has a most elaborate gilded carriage to take him to the annual “Lord Mayor’s Show”.
But in an unusual and stunningly welcome move,
“Pope declines UK state pomp.”
Who else would turn down an invitation not just to dine at the palace, but to accept full hospitality as a house-guest of the Queen?
Instead, he will stay with his Ambassador, the Papal Nuncio, in Wimbledon. I spent two years working in Wimbledon, where I taught Mathematics at the Jesuit school, Wimbledon College, so I know the area reasonably well. For those of you not familiar with London, I would like to try to give you some picture of it.
Wimbledon is technically “suburban” rather than central London, but that is deceptive. In this crowded island and more crowded London, even suburban does not convey the kind of leafiness, with large houses and big gardens, that the word might convey on South Africa or parts of the US. Even in the expensive upmarket suburbs here (and Wimbledon is classed as upmarket), many of the “houses” are strung together in rows of terraces. Wimbledon is little different, in that it lies on the slopes of a hill. Higher up, away from the bustle of the shopping area and the railway station, there are some really big, detached houses in quiet and secluded gardens, entirely appropriate for an ambassadorial residence. At a guess, that is probably where the Nuncio has residence. I could be wrong, though, Wimbledon is also the base for the Jesuits, several of whom live in the area in fairly standard terraces.
(To be fair, Wimbledon is very varied.)
I prefer to think of one of these as the base for the papal visit, with Benedict walking down to Wimbledon station. For a visit to Archbishop Nichols, the new head of he church in England and Wales, he could take the tube from Wimbledon into central London (the District Line will do it) Then Westminster Cathedral is a manageable walk from Victoria Station.
More seriously, this is a most welcome departure from John Paul II’s rock star personality cult. It also comes shortly after an earlier, intriguing decision to prevent the newly retired Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor from taking up a proposed seat in the House of Lords, where the Anglican bishops have a strong permanent voting bloc. That too, I think, is significant and welcome – but I am withholding further comment for now. )See “Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor Turns Down Peerage“)