The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


Do you remember that great weekend in September? For the first time since the Reformation a Pope made a formal, state visit to this country.

When Pope John Paul II came in the 1980s, he came as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church and his was a Pastoral Visit. Pope Benedict XVI, however, came by invitation of the Queen - one head of state visiting another.

In Matthew’s Gospel - chapter 16 - we read about Jesus making Peter the head of the Church. “You are Peter, (meaning rock) and on this rock I will build my Church.” From that time, Peter was regarded as the leader of the new faith - the followers of Jesus Christ.

Mainly because Peter, and then Paul, both went to Rome both were martyred there, and because Jerusalem was destroyed just after the time of Jesus, Rome became the natural centre of Christianity. It became a “Holy City” and together with some areas of France, in the fourth century Rome became the property of the Pope.

The name “Pope” by the way, was first used for any Bishop in the early Church. It simply means “Father” and comes from the idea of the senior male being the head of a Jewish family.

Christian families followed suit and the head of a Christian community was given the same respect, hence Father. That’s very different from the leader of a Jewish Synagogue who is known as a teacher - Rabbi - rather than a father.  Jesus was never seen as a father but as a teacher - a rabbi.

Gradually in the Church things changed and for the last 1000 years or so, the word Pope has been the title of the Bishop of Rome. In 1302, in fact, the then Pope - Boniface VIII - made it all official, namely that the Bishop of Rome was senior to all other bishops.

Back to the place - to Rome itself. That city, and some places in France too, were the property of the Pope. That was the case from the 4th century right up until about 200 years ago when the French territories were lost and then Rome itself was taken over by the secular state of Italy. In 1929 - not long ago - the Vatican was set apart from Italy and became the smallest country in the world - a city state, with the Pope as its head of state, and it was in that capacity that Benedict came to the UK in September. We have been privileged in our lifetime to witness something special, something new, something unimaginable just a few years ago.

Henry VIII broke away from Rome, and yet here was the Pope, for the first time in 500 years, singing Evensong at Westminster Abbey, here was the Pope giving a joint blessing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, here was the Pope visiting the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, here was the Pope beatifying an Englishman - John Henry Newman, and perhaps most significant of all, here was the Pope and the Archbishop, together, preaching the same message - a message to England about the perils of secularisation.

What we witnessed was both historically and spiritually very significant.

Our two Churches have spoken as one to the nation - and that’s something we can feel very pleased about. The Pope himself said during his visit to Westminster, that: “we are forcibly reminded that what we share in Christ is greater than what divides us.”

Let us hope and pray that those words will form the foundation for a new relationship between Canterbury and Rome.

Fr Mike Sheffield

Christmas Edition 2010

From the Parish Priest