Arriving in a country in which anti-Catholicism and resentment towards the Church is rife, his manner, his graciousness and humility was strikingly disarming.
He fulfils his Office with a profound simplicity of heart and purity of spirit. What became obvious was that, far from being a Pontiff who is uneasy in his role, or feels any need to cover his personality, holiness emanates from him. His spirit seems to be liberated, grounded in God, firmly rooted in prayer. Despite the public's negative perception of him, he seemed very relaxed and accepting of all things, managing to convince even some sceptics of his honesty. He is genuine and that will have broken down some high barriers.
Speeches which could have been problematic, such as the one he gave to the Archbishop of Canterbury or to our 'eminent' politicians, resonated both truth and love, respect and fraternal charity. Every speech he gave appeared to be delivered so gently, yet with an important message of truth and he was so obviously, so utterly sincere. In an age in which we are used to seeing politicians try and win us over with excruciatingly off-putting charm offensives, so often promising us the World and then giving us so little or worse, it was clear that this man's deepest inner convictions, driven by his mission to preach the Gospel and to be Shepherd to the Faithful were genuine and that was why he was so refreshing, offering something that the World simply cannot give.
The man who was reportedly unwanted in this country because he is coming in his capacity as a Head of State, arriving to notable public expense at a time of recession, seemed to win over even parts of the deeply sceptical and hostile national press in his capacity as the Vicar of Christ. The Holy Father is aged and not a little frail, deeply unpopular with sections of the British population, surrounded by wolves who wanted to tear him down, yet everything he did and said seemed so graceful, eloquent, intelligent, unstinting, resolute and still immensely loving.
We naturally hope or even expect our Popes to be holy, to exude charity, humility and the love of Christ, but Popes don't have to do that, they don't have to be deep and intimate friends of Jesus Christ, they don't have to be men rooted and grounded in prayer and spirituality and indeed not all in history have been. What we have in Pope Benedict XVI is a remarkable and supreme fusion of 'being' and 'doing', the fruit of a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, to Whom he points as the Way, the Truth and the Life constantly. His itinerary was packed, he travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, attending function after function as well as presiding over a series of Masses, yet it all seemed breathtakingly effortless.
Thank you, God for our beloved Pontiff. May his reign be long and continue to be glorious!