- Associated Press - Sunday, September 19, 2010

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — The Vatican on Sunday declared Pope Benedict XVI’s four-day visit to Britain a “great success,” saying the pontiff was able to reach out to a nation wary of his message and angry at his church’s sex abuse scandal.

On his final day, Benedict praised British heroics against the Nazis to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and moved an Englishman a step closer to possible sainthood.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said the important thing wasn’t so much the turnout — crowds were much smaller than when Pope John Paul II visited in 1982 — but that Benedict’s warning about the dangers of an increasingly secularized society had been received “with profound interest” from Britons as a whole.

Indeed, the British media coverage was remarkable in the seriousness with which newspapers and television took Benedict’s message, and TV stations ran virtually all of the pope’s speeches, Masses and other events live.

“Everyone is agreed about the great success, not so much from the point of view of the numbers, but … by the fact that the message of the pope was received with respect and joy by the faithful,” Father Lombardi told reporters.

Prime Minister David Cameron, in his farewell speech before Benedict’s departure ceremony, said the pope had “challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing.”

At the same time, he seemed to take issue with Benedict’s contention that secularization was taking hold more and more in Britain.

“Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been, and it always will be,” Mr. Cameron said.

That was certainly evident on Sunday, as Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman before tens of thousands of faithful who paid 25 pounds ($39) to attend. This trip marked the first time pilgrims had been asked by their church to pay to see the pope.

Newman, a 19th-century Anglican convert to Catholicism, was honored at an open-air Mass in Birmingham, the spiritual highlight of Benedict’s trip. The theologian was enormously influential in both churches, and Benedict wants to hold him up as a model for the faithful for having followed his conscience despite great costs.

Still, Benedict opened his homily by marking a very different but no less poignant commemoration for a German pope on British soil: the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when Nazi German bombers attacked Britain during World War II.

“For me, as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology,” Benedict told the crowd.

The Mass was the last major event of Benedict’s trip, which saw him again apologizing for the sex abuse scandal, meeting with abuse victims, and pressing his case that God and faith should have a place in public life. He also sought to ease tensions with the Anglican Church by making a historic visit to Westminster Abbey in London.

Saturday saw one of the biggest anti-pope protests of Benedict’s five-year papacy as some 10,000 people marched against him through central London, opposed to his policies on homosexuality and contraception and disgusted by the clerical sex abuse scandal.

“You’re Wrong, Catholics Tell Pope,” read the front-page headline in Sunday’s center-left the Independent newspaper, which ran a poll showing seven out of 10 British Catholics believe a woman should have the right to choose an abortion and nine out of 10 support the wide availability of contraceptives.

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