The first State Visit of the Pope to London, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, marks a new phase in diplomatic relations with Britain. The Pope had a private celebration of Mass in the Chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature in Wimbledon this morning with the envoys who worked hard to make the visit happen.
In particular, the State Visit is a culmination of the efforts of the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz who sadly cannot be in London to enjoy this historic day due to ill health. Ambassadors will be attending the prayer vigil in Hyde Park today and many will be saying a quiet one for the speedy recovery of the Nuncio.
Although the visit has had its controversies, it remains an important moment in the long history between the Holy See and England, in particular, whose diplomatic relations can be traced back as far as 1479, when the Crown sent an Ambassador to Rome. Of course there was a hiatus of 450 years after 1559, and diplomatic ties were restored in 1914.
Full relations were recognised in 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited the UK – it was termed a ‘pastoral visit’ due to sensitivities over the Falklands War. But it led to the UK–Holy See exchange of full Ambassadors in that year.