By Catherine Pepinster
Pope Francis has paid tribute to Prince Philip’s devotion to his marriage and family, his distinguished record of public service and his commitment to the education and advancement of future generations.
In a telegram to the Queen, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin conveyed the Pope’s heartfelt condolences to the Queen and the royal family in their loss. “Upon you and upon all who grieve his loss in the sure hope of the Resurrection, the Holy Father invokes the Lord’s blessings of consolation and peace.”
The Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen met several popes in Rome and during various papal visits in the UK, where tributes from the Catholic Church were led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster:
“At this moment of sadness and loss I pray for the repose of the soul of Prince Philip, Her Majesty the Queen’s faithful and loyal husband. I pray for The Queen and all of the royal family”.
The Cardinal’s words reflect Roman Catholic theology — that the person who has died may still be prayed for, while other Christian denominations tend to focus entirely on the bereaved and on thanksgiving for a life well-lived.
Such a prayer might have been entirely understandable to Prince Philip, who was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church and retained a deep spiritual connection to it.
While the Roman Catholic Church enjoys considerable dialogue with Orthodoxy, Philip was not always entirely sympathetic to other tenets of Catholicism: he was highly critical of its position on birth control.
The late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who met the Duke of Edinburgh on many occasions, including weekends spent at Sandringham, recalled that he would vent his frustration at church teaching which he blamed for the world’s overpopulation.
However, he shared other concerns with various popes, namely the environment and interfaith dialogue. In 1986 he brought these two issues together when he invited faith leaders to a summit in Assisi to discuss care for the planet.
It was the same year that Pope John Paul II brought faith leaders to the same place — the town of St Francis, patron of ecology and one of the earliest Christian to engage in dialogue with Muslims — to also discuss dialogue.
John Paul II was one of several popes whom Philip met during his 73 years as consort to the Queen. Visits to Rome took place in 1951 (before her accession) to see Pius XII, and then John XXIII in 1961.
They first met John Paul II in Rome in 1980 and again in 1982 when the Pope came to Britain during a visit that was subdued compared with the pomp planned before the Falklands War. But a meeting at Buckingham Palace went ahead.
They all met again in Rome in 2000 towards the end of John Paul’s lengthy papacy.
In 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI came to Britain for his state visit, the Queen asked her husband to meet the Pope as he landed at Edinburgh Airport. As the duke waited with clerics at the airport for the Pope’s plane, he regaled them with his memories of his previous papal encounters.
On board the plane with the papal party was Leo Cushley, now Archbishop of St Andrew and Edinburgh, who was then an official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Today Archbishop Cushley spoke for Catholic Scots when he said: “Upon receiving the sad news of the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, I respectfully offer Her Majesty the Queen the sincere condolences of the Catholics of our Archdiocese. After a life of dedicated service to Her Majesty, their family and the nation, may he now rest in peace.”
That the Queen sent her husband to meet the Pope was seen as a sign of the couple’s high regard for Pope Benedict, who belongs to their generation.
A similar regard was evident in 2014 when, within a year of his election, Pope Francis welcomed the Queen and Prince Philip to the Vatican. The encounter was part of a day-long visit to the Italian capital which involved lunch with the Italian president and tea with the Pope.
The visit was much more informal than previous visits to the Vatican when the Queen had worn a tiara and a long black dress and Prince Philip full ceremonial dress uniform .
On this last occasion the royal couple were in smart but informal dress, indicating a far more relaxed approach: an exchange of gifts included a bottle of whisky from Prince Philip to the Pope .
But one thing above all was unchanged: Pope, monarch and consort were all people of deep Christian faith. Two — the Pope and the Queen as supreme governor of the Church of England — were leaders of two denominations. Philip, although not a religious leader, maintained an abiding interest in religion which he shared with popes and catholic cardinals he met throughout his time as consort.
During the Queen and Prince Philip’s married life of more than 70 years they spent two happy years on the island of Malta.
Today its Catholic bishop, Charles Scicluna, said: “I join the thousands of Maltese and Gozitans in our prayers for the late Prince Philip, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, expressing our heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family. May he rest In peace!”