Pope Benedict XVI addressed Members of both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall on Friday 17 September as part of his first official visit to the UK. The invited audience also included former Prime Ministers, diplomats and representatives of civic society.
Preceded by the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod and the Lord Great Chamberlain, Pope Benedict was accompanied to St Stephen’s Entrance by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Pope Benedict’s address covered the role of religion in society and its contribution to national life and the long tradition from which UK parliamentary democracy has evolved.
Commons Speaker, John Bercow MP, gave a welcome address introducing the Pope’s speech.
In a valedictory address thanking Pope Benedict following his speech, the Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman spoke of the contribution in the House of Lords by many religious voices, that includes not only Bishops of the Church of England, but also Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Sikhs and many distinguished Catholic peers. Respecting these voices is essential to Parliament, she said.
Westminster Hall has provided the venue for state occasions and events of national significance. Most recently, the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela gave an address in Westminster Hall in 1996.
The Chapel of St Mary’s Undercroft, in the crypt of St Stephen’s Chapel, also survived the fire of 1834. St Mary’s Undercroft used to be a place of worship for the royal household. Holy Communion continues to be celebrated weekly and Catholic Mass celebrated monthly in St Mary’s Undercroft when Parliament is in session.