Pope Francis greets Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during a meeting at the Vatican in this April 3, 2014, file photo. The pope sent well-wishes to the queen on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee celebration marking 70 years on the throne. CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters

Queen Elizabeth was a bridge of reconciliation between Catholics, Protestants

By  Susan Korah, Catholic Register Special
  • September 9, 2022

"Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in Him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe."

- Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas broadcast of 2016

She was known to millions as “the Queen,” as if she was the only royal matriarch in the world. 

But Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor Elizabeth II, “by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith,” according to her official title, was no ordinary monarch living a jet-set life in an era noted for the rise of celebrity culture.

Much has been written in the secular media about her service to her country, the Commonwealth and the world, but very little about her deeply held Christian values that inspired her actions and guided her words.

She was one of the last generation of leaders in the Western world who not only publicly declared her Christian faith but lived it, not by leading the faithful into battle, “but by doing little things with great love.”

The “little things” she mentioned in her modest, self-deprecating way included acts of diplomacy that did much to heal the breach between the Anglican and Catholic Churches that had plagued Britain and Ireland for centuries. Combining the roles of monarch and “defender of the (Anglican) faith in an unprecedented way, she transformed herself into an ambassador of reconciliation.

When King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in the 16th century and ordered the dissolution of Catholic monasteries, it caused a bitter divide between Catholics and Protestants which had far-reaching historical consequences.

Queen Elizabeth II, however, offered the olive branch and took on the role of ambassador or reconciliation between the two denominations.

On Nov. 30, 1995, she made history by attending a Catholic service at Westminster Cathedral even though a group of demonstrators jeered as the Queen arrived and Protestant leader Michael Hobbis accused her of “breaking (her) coronation vows.” 

Cardinal Basil Hume, Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, said at the time: “In 1982, Your Majesty received Pope John Paul into your London home,'' he said. “That was for us the healing of many ancient wounds and we were so grateful for that.

“The Queen's presence was a further affirmation of the place that we Catholics have in the nation,’’he added.

In fact, she met with five popes in her lifetime beginning with Pope Pius XII in 1951 while she as still a princess.

Pope Francis met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Vatican in 2014, when the royal couple presented him with a gift of whiskey produced at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she spent her final days.  

Nigel Baker, Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See at the time, said, “If you look back in terms of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, it is extraordinary how far the relationship between Britain and the Holy See, and between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church, has developed since 1952 when she became Queen.”

The other popes she met were Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, Pope John Paul II in 1980, 1982 and 2000, and Pope John XXIII in 1961.

Queen Elizabeth extended a healing hand to Ireland, another battleground between Catholics and Protestants.

“Ihe Queen’s visit to Ireland laid to rest some of the ancient hatred, characterized by appalling acts of violence, and which has so disfigured British-Irish relationships,” wrote Lord David Alton (member of the British House of Lords) in a recent blog post. “My father and brothers all served in the British armed forces as war time soldiers. My mother was a native Irish speaker from a strong nationalist Irish Republican home. During my time in the Commons, I served as Northern Ireland and Irish Affairs spokesman and knew that only through the healing of history was there any prospect of reconciliation. The Queen clearly understood that and led by example.” 

The British parliamentarian was referring to the Queen’s four-day visit to Ireland in 2011 and her historic handshake at a charity event in Belfast in 2012 with IRA commander Martin McGuiness which made headlines around the world.

Following the meeting in 2012, McGuinness said he liked the Queen, adding that the meeting had the potential to define "a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves.” In a speech in Westminster, he described the handshake as “the hand of friendship.”

Today, the world is in mourning Queen Elizabeth II, “Defender of the Faith.”

Pope Francis reflected the sentiments of millions around the world in his message of condolence to her son and successor, soon to be crowned King Charles III:

 “Deeply saddened to learn of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, I offer heartfelt condolences to Your Majesty, the Members of the Royal Family, the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. I willingly join all who mourn her loss in praying for the late Queen’s eternal rest, and in paying tribute to her life of unstinting service to the good of the nation and the Commonwealth, her example of devotion to duty, her steadfast witness of faith in Jesus Christ and her firm hope in His promises.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.