I hope he’s wearing his trademark red shoes – how cool are they! He arrives on Thursday and for four days he will visit four cities in Scotland and England encouraging his flock as he goes. I’m referring about Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. Despite the papal visit occurring during very trying times for the Roman Catholic Church, we should surely welcome him to our shores. (I say ‘our shores’ but of course he isn’t coming to Wales – but if he did we too would want to welcome him.)

First and foremost Joseph Ratzinger is an academic theologian. He may have been ordained as a priest in 1951 but it is his teaching work at various universities that stands out. He was also a theological advisor to Cardinal Josef Frings who was a major figure in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s – this was the council that brought so much reform to the Catholic Church. We know Ratzinger best possibly because of his work as head of the Church’s section on faith and doctrine – and there he was a stout defender of traditional Catholic dogma.

That the Church chose such a distinguished teacher and theologian as their leader is, for me, such a good thing. These days teaching and preaching are held in much disdain by charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches and even in some evangelical ones too. Most of the emphasis is put on experiencing God, forgetting, perhaps, that God created our mind just as much as he created our emotions.

Pope Benedict has, so far, been quite conservative in his approach – giving no truck to the calls for women priests, a change in priestly celibacy, the use of condoms or a number of other important issues. Many will applaud this conservatism, seeing it as a bulwark against the ever strengthening tide of secularism. And yet I suspect that rather than providing the long term defence against godlessness we need, this attitude is actually stopping the reform and renewal that is needed.

Because of this conservative approach I don’t suppose we should expect to hear anything new from him during his time here. He comes to strengthen his flock – a significant body in the UK – and we welcome him to our midst, especially if he’s wearing his red shoes!

Tomorrow I’ll post about the gifts being sold to commemorate the Pope’s coming. You will NOT want to miss these great goodies!