14 April 2022, The Tablet

Pope John Paul II, the Falklands war and a crisis of sovereignty

The bishop who met the Pope at Gatwick, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, became Archbishop of Westminster in 2000.

Pope John Paul II, the Falklands war and a crisis of sovereignty

Pope John Paul II?arriving at Gatwick in 1982
Photo: Alamy/pa


Forty years ago, it seemed the invasion of a British sovereign territory 8,000 miles away would force the cancellation of the first visit by a reigning Pope to the United Kingdom

In the early spring of 1982, the Catholic papers were enjoying an advertising boom. Whisky tumblers, sherry decanters, plates, prayer books, special editions of The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, and an advert for a production of The Jeweller’s Shop in London’s West End starring Hannah Gordon, Gwen Watford and Paul Daneman. The Jeweller’s Shop had been written by Karol Wojtyla when he was an auxiliary bishop of Kraków. He was now John Paul II, who since his election four years earlier had become the jet-age pontiff, flying round the world. It was his face on all those decanters, tumblers and plates, for he was due in Britain on 28 May.

Unlike the visit of Benedict XVI in 2010, it was to be a pastoral, not a state, visit, although there were plans for the Pope to meet the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher It was not only important for the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, hoped that the visit would encourage stronger ties between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The outlook was good: a Gallup poll commissioned by The Universe reported at the start of April that not only did 85 per cent of Catholics approve of the visit, but so did half the British population.


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