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On Pope Benedict’s visit

On Pope Benedict’s visit

Like many Catholics in England the visit of the Holy Father was greatly anticipated by our parishioners. Many were fortunate to witness the visit in person. Some of those that did were keen to share their experience in our last parish magazine. What follows is the recollections of the visit by two of those pilgrims.

The Saturday evening before, our alarm clocks were set, packed lunches packed and we were ready for an early start for our pilgrimage to the Papal mass at Cofton Park, Birmingham.  My wife and I both found it hard to sleep as our minds were actively excited about the next day, at the prospect of seeing Pope Benedict with our own eyes!

It was a damp and chilly morning and on our arrival at the coach park it was immediately up with our umbrellas and joining the long train of people, most with bright eyes and smiles, heading to the venue. Before entering into Cofton Park, there was a quick security check and then we were off to find the best viewing spot we could find, in front of two large TV screens and of course the main altar, behind which was written ‘Heart speaks unto heart’ words translated from Latin as per Cardinal Newman’s motto.

By now the crowd was already quite large and patiently waiting for the pending mass at 10am. A procession of white by way of the clergymen making their way through the centre of the crowd to their seats on the stage preceded the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI via helicopter. He then got into the notorious Pope mobile, generously greeting the faithful and making his way to the altar. Cofton Park came alive, clapping and cheering with a real affection at the presence of The Head Shepherd of our church! The rain disappeared, the sun started to shine through and umbrellas were put away most favourably and coincidently for the start of mass.

During the mass, we witnessed The Holy Father, beatify one of our own, a son of England, John Henry Cardinal Newman, as blessed. In the Pope’s homily, whilst always putting god first place in praise, his words were full of tributes and respect acknowledging great achievements of ancestors from our country including some kind words of remembrance marking the 70thanniversary of the Battle of Britain. This led him neatly onto Cardinal Newman, recalling some of his teachings and visions and of what he helps us to understand by way of his example to us.

In reflection of the day, I will always remember a real sense of respectful decorum, friendly people together. I think this was noticeable by all who attended. My impressions after seeing the Pope were those of a great teacher with true humility, which reminded me of his words concerning himself when he was first elected Pope “just a simple, humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord”

I feel proud to have been there and proud to be part of a community, a united people all connected before God, of which the Catholic faith must be the world’s closest thing.

Marcus Dring



Papal Visit to Hyde Park Saturday 18th September 2010. We met at the Church Hall for a nine o’clock departure. When we arrived, Tom Bigwood – our diocesan communications officer- was there to greet us along with Sky News, and ITV West camera crews. Jane Critten and I were cajoled into taking part in a live broadcast on Sky News. The presenter was in Westminster and would be talking to us in Bristol. The thought of this was far more nerve racking than getting a coach load of pilgrims to Hyde Park! We were wired up with microphones and a small ear piece (so we could hear what was going on in Westminster). The interview was very short. The noise was so great in Westminster from all the excitement there, that we had great difficulty hearing what was being asked.

There were nineteen pilgrims from St.Bernadette’s, eight from St.Dunstans (Keynsham) and four from St.Gerard’s (Knowle) on our coach. Fr.Christopher had organised some croissants, pastries and coffee to start the day right!! We finally set off at 9:20, leaving the TV cameras behind.

We made it as far as Swindon on the M4, when the traffic came to a complete stand still. Reports said that there was an accident ahead and that the motorway was closed. It was expected to be closed for at least an hour. All we could do was to sit in the never ending queue and wait. It was a lovely day, and most of us disembarked the coach to get some fresh air and sun on the hard shoulder. On cue, the traffic started moving an hour later.

We arrived at the new Wembley Stadium, where the coaches were parking ( no coaches were allowed into central London for the event – we found that out on the way!). We left the coach, and headed for the tube station. We finally arrived in Hyde Park at about 3 o’clock. We had unfortunately missed Sherrie Eugene-Hart (from HTV) who was leading prayers.

We found ourselves a patch of grass and set ourselves down. On arrival, the venue seemed quite empty, but in no time at all it filled up. If you saw the pictures shown from the helicopter above, you could see the number of people actually there.

The journey of Pope Benedict through London to Hyde Park was relayed to the big screens, so we could see his arrival in the pope mobile. We knew that he was getting closer by the helicopters circling above us. As we waited for the Pope’s arrival, the trio ‘The Priests’ sang to entertain. The atmosphere was electric when the Pope arrived. Such excitement.

The crowds of Pilgrims sang ‘Christ be beside me’, as Pope Benedict arrived. The cheers went up and the flags were waved enthusiastically when he entered the stage.

As a group, we were quite a long way back from the stage and altar, and in reality Pope Benedict was a way off in the distance, but thanks to the BIG screens around the arena, and the sound system, we were able to see and hear everything.

The first reading was Ephesians 3:14-21

The Gospel read was Matthew 5:1-22, 14-15 – the account of the Beatitudes.

In the Pope’s homily, he mentioned how good it was to see so many young people at the vigil, to which great cheers went up. Most of the Homily was based around John Henry Newman, prior to his Beatification on the Sunday. The Pope finished his homily by inviting people to join him in Madrid for World Youth day. Great Cheers went up.

The Holy Father then lit the Paschal Candle. The light was the taken to the candles borne by Parish representatives. Following this, the Blessed Sacrament was brought to the Altar. The Monstrance was shown on all the big screens. The Holy Father was knelt in front of the altar. The silence was special; tens of thousands of people united in prayer. The Litany of the Sacred Heart was then recited. Several hymns were sung, followed by Benediction and then Reposition.

When the Holy Father left, there was Great cheers and clapping.

We, along with tens of thousands of other pilgrims, had to try and get out of Hyde Park. It was the first time I had seen Oxford Street pedestrianised. The underground stations were closed due to the number of people. We had to walk to Oxford Circus, to pick up the Tube. Once on it we were ok, and on our way back to Wembley.

It was a fantastic day, and enjoyed by all. We arrived back in Bristol at about 1:30am very tired. For some though it was up again in 2½ hours to get ready for Cofton Park. For me it was a restful Sunday, and watch the Beatification Mass on the TV.

Alex O’Farrell

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