LONDON – Pope Benedict XVI left Britain Sunday with a fresh call to proclaim the Gospel while the Vatican hailed his visit a “great success.”
In an address to Catholic bishops from England, Wales and Scotland, the pope said there was an “urgent need to proclaim the Gospel afresh in a highly secularized environment”.
“In the course of my visit, it has become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Benedict said, speaking at Oscott College in Birmingham.
“As you proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, with its promise of hope for the poor and needy, the sick and the elderly, the unborn and the neglected, be sure to present in its fullness the life-giving message of the Gospel, including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture.”
The secularization of society has been a recurring theme in the pope’s addresses during his four-day state visit.
In an address to Queen Elizabeth II and other dignitaries, the pope warned of “aggressive forms of secularism” and the consequences of leaving God out of society before expressing his concern over the “marginalization” of religion in Britain in an address to politicians in Westminster Hall.
In his address to bishops Sunday, the pope also turned his attention again to the “shameful” abuse of children by Catholic priests, saying that the scandal had seriously undermined the moral credibility of Church leaders.
“I have spoken on many occasions of the deep wounds that such behavior causes – in the victims first and foremost, but also in the relationships of trust that should exist between priests and people, between priests and their bishops, and between the Church authorities and the public,” he said.
The pope went on to address the global financial crisis, saying it caused hardship for countless individuals.
“The specter of unemployment is casting its shadow over many people’s lives, and the long-term cost of the ill-advised investment practices of recent times is becoming all too evident,” he said.
“The prophetic voice of Christians has an important role in highlighting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources,” the pontiff added.
Benedict said the crisis provided an opportunity to reinforce the importance of virtue in public life and encourage people to aspire to higher moral values “against a background of growing cynicism regarding even the possibility of virtuous living.”
The pope’s four-day visit to the U.K. has been hailed a success by Catholics, who believe it has helped win the affection of the British people toward the pope and laid the ground for further work in regaining the people’s trust in the Catholic Church after the child abuse scandal.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pope’s visit had been a “great success,” even with the crowds being smaller than those who turned out for John Paul II’s visit in 1982.
Lombardi told reporters that the real marker of the visit’s success was the fact that “the message of the Pope was received with respect and joy by the faithful.”
In his farewell speech to the pope at Birmingham airport, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was a “good thing” that the pope had “challenged the whole country to sit up and think.”
“Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been and it always will be,” he said.
Benedict’s visit to the U.K. was the first by a pope in 28 years.