Witnessing to Truth

Patrick Ward writes…

So… seven days have now passed since The Holy Father left these shores following his historic visit to the UK.  Life quickly returned to normal.  By Monday the blanket news coverage had virtually stopped, by Tuesday the Tweeters ran out of puff, by Wednesday the pilgrims had caught up on their lost sleep and people went on continuing with their lives as before.  If you are like me, you might have indulged in the odd conversation here and there with Catholics who followed the visit and also with non-Catholics who were demonstrating an unusually high level of interest in the faith.  But before long, the buzz of the four-day visit soon abated and we were left with just memories.

So what was it all about?  What will be the legacy of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK?

This weekend +Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, delivered a pastoral letter throughout his Diocese to reflect on the visit.  Here is an extract:

The Holy Father has given us new heart for our mission. He said we are to be witnesses to the beauty of holiness, to the splendour of the truth and to the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ.

We witness best to the splendour of the truth of our faith when we follow the example given by Pope Benedict. In speaking of our faith he was always so gentle and courteous, so sensitive to the achievements and anxieties of his listeners, so clear and reasoned in presenting difficult points, so humble and open-hearted. We must strive for these same qualities when speaking about our faith, in witnessing to its truth.

Like many others, I was greatly encouraged and impressed by The Holy Father’s sensitivity to our multicultural, pluralistic society.  He has, indeed, led the way in showing us that we can be witnesses to our faith without taking an aggressive stance.  Yes, in these times we must sometimes be counter-cultural but we can do this by taking the centre-ground of reason and not placing ourselves on the periphery of society.

Growing in knowledge and understanding of our faith is vital if we are to be witnesses to this truth.  For so many Catholics, both practising and non-practising, this is where we feel most ill-at-ease when facing the challenging, difficult questions of life.

There is, I feel, a great need for grounded, solid teaching of the faith in our churches and in our schools; practical, down-to-earth catechesis for the many, not the few.  Preparing for the sacraments offers the Church wonderful channels to engage with its people.  I am often disheartened by the missed opportunities when I see dodgy confirmation programmes or flimsy marriage preparation courses which fail to ask deep, fundamental questions.  People yearn to understand and deepen their faith and as the church we have a responsibility to respond to this need.

In my first blog for this site, Heart Speaking to Heart, I commented on the impact of the visit of Pope John Paul II on me as an eight-year-old.  I raised the question whether Pope Benedict XVI would speak to hearts in the same way that his predecessor did those years ago.  If I’m honest, I doubted whether he would.  However, I have been blessed by the decision I made to engage with faithful openness; I have been deeply touched by this visit.

Writing this blog has helped me to collate my thoughts, sharpen my observations and reflect on the experience of the visit.  Thanks to those who have dipped in now and then, and special thanks to those people who commented on previous blogs so honestly and openly.  Your words have been really appreciated.

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What’s so good about being a Catholic? (Part Two)

Patrick Ward writes…

Over a week ago, I wrote a post called “What’s so good about being a Catholic?”   You can read it here.

As you will see, lots of people responded with comments and thoughts.  Here, in alphabetical order, is a quick summary of some of the suggestions you made:

• Beauty
• Belonging
• Charismatic communities
• Community
• Confidence and authority
• Ecumenism and Religious dialogue
• Education system
• Family unity
• Family values
• The Holy Eucharist
• Jesus
• Justice and Equality
• Love
• The Pope
• Prayer
• Protection of life
• Saints
• Sacraments
• Truth

In a few days, I will forward the link of this page to my friend who prompted the conversation.  So if you want to add any more comments on this site with ideas on what is so good about being a Catholic these days, please do!  Thanks to everyone who took time to comment and share their thoughts with the readers…

Posted in Bellahouston Park, Birmingham, Cofton Park, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hyde Park, London, Palace of Holyrood House, St Mary's University College Twickenham, The Visit, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Benedict, Banners and More Than Dance

It has been interesting to hear about Pope Benedict’s response to his visit to the UK. I suppose I was so tied up in my own feelings and emotions that it never occurred to me that the Holy Father would have been affected by meeting us. I suppose I had assumed that he would take the whole trip in his stride, and would be soon back to business as usual back at his home in the Vatican. And yet he spoke very movingly yesterday of how his visit to the UK had affected him.

This apostolic trip confirmed my profound conviction that the old nations of Europe possess a Christian soul which merges with the genius and history of the respective peoples and the Church never ceases to work to keep this spiritual and cultural tradition alive.

I like the fact that he talks of us ‘never ceasing to work’ because this ties in with my previous post about needing to build on the blessings we have received from this visit. We cannot afford merely to lie back and bask in the afterglow.

The Pope went on to say

And in the four intense and very beautiful days spent in that noble land, I had the great joy of speaking to the heart of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, and they spoke to mine, especially with their presence and the testimony of their faith.

Heart speaks unto heart!

I took so many photographs of the banners in Hyde Park that I am still sorting through them all. I put a few of my pictures onto Picasa and emailed them to some of my friends. One lady replied to thank me and commented that the one she liked best was the poster saying ‘We love you more than Beans on Toast’. This image has become quite famous, as the girl who made the photo, Niamh Moloney with the Papal wellies, was interviewed by Sky TV. I am sure Niamh never imagined those wellies would take her quite so far. It just goes to show that we never know what effect our actions might have on others, or how far their influence will stretch.

More than Beans on Toast

Finally I had an email from the More Than Dance group, who I had contacted about the song they danced to in Hyde Park. It turned out to be a track called Hail Mary from an album entitled The Promise by Jo Boyce and Mike Stanley. I should have guessed it would be one of theirs as it combined beautiful music with palpable spirituality, the ideal combination for the occasion. My prayer now is that we can make this ‘More Than’ just a few days of excitement and joy, that we can continue to work to bring God’s love to the heart of our world.

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The Benedict Bounce

Everyone is talking about the Benedict Bounce. The term was first used, it seems, by Cardinal Keith O’Brien at Oscott College, during his speech thanking the Pope at the end of his visit. It refers to  the positive after-effects of the Papal visit. The pages of the Facebook Papal visit group have been buzzing with all kinds of wonderful stories about people whose faith has been enlivened, restored, enriched by this visit. I learnt today that in the past week the Facebook page has had 44,830 visits this week. The challenge for all of us will be to make sure that the bounce continues, that the impetus is not lost, that the momentum is maintained.

I wonder what it will be like for someone who has lapsed when they decide to return to active church participation. Will they find a welcome? How will they be encouraged to get involved in the life of their local parish? Will the RCIA programme be accessible to them? Are there other alternatives? One lady I spoke to today said it was up to the priests to identify the ‘newcomers’. I baulked a little at this, because surely it is up to the laity, as much as anyone. When I was a new convert, the priest seemed like a distant figure, and it was easy to avoid him. It was a colleague I worked with at the time who encouraged me to join in, and introduced me to her friends and relatives in that parish. After that I never looked back, but some people prefer not to get dragged into helping with the next Bazaar or Coffee morning.

What ideas do readers of this blog have to encourage any new arrivals in our churches, whether they are the lapsed who are returning, or non-Catholics who are enquiring? And what of the e-pilgrims, those who have followed the whole visit through cyberspace? How do we continue to support and encourage them?

Posted in Birmingham, Hyde Park, Oscott College, The Visit | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

An Emotional Rollercoaster

Patrick Ward writes…

I am a 36-year-old bloke from Liverpool.  I don’t consider myself to be particularly sentimental and I’m not necessarily prone to great bouts of gushing emotion.  And yet, over the course of the four-day visit of Pope Benedict, I have found myself to be deeply moved, emotional and close to tears on numerous occasions.  Why?

The first time it happened was when I was in work on Thursday morning.  In between meetings, I logged on to the live stream to see “Shepherd One” land in Scotland.  A knot tightened in my chest.  Yes, I got emotional at the sight of an aeroplane landing. 

On Friday morning, I was privileged to get a ticket to attend ‘The Big Assembly’.  Before the Holy Father arrived, I read his speech to the children in the press office.  It was beautiful.  Surrounded by media hacks, I felt myself welling up at the profound words that the Pope was about to address to the nation’s children. 

Later that day, I joined my family and friends on Millbank to wave at the Pontiff as he travelled from one historical event at Lambeth Palace to another at Westminster Hall.  He drove past.  We all cheered and waved.  And after he passed, I felt my heart pounding and my eyes filling up again. 

On television the next morning, I watched the Mass from Westminster Cathedral (see my blog, “Real Prayer”).  At the end of the service, as ‘Benedicto’ walked out of the great doors to greet the young people waiting on the Piazza, my Adam’s Apple throbbed once more. 

On Saturday evening, I was in Hyde Park and felt deeply moved by the uniqueness of being in a crowd of 80,000 people in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. 

On Sunday morning, sat with a small group of strangers from my parish in a cold, wet Cofton Park in Birmingham after a long and tiring early morning journey, my heart was squeezed some more with these historical words, simply spoken:

“We declare that venerable Servant of God
Cardinal John Henry Newman
Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory,
Shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed.”

Then, as I arrived home after an exhausting four days (how on earth must the 84-year-old Pope feel?), I switched on the telly and saw the Holy Father leave in his aeroplane after this truly historical visit.  And, yes, I felt the urge to cry my eyes out once more.  Why, why, why?

Not normal behaviour for me.  Trust me.  Honest.  I am still trying to make sense of it all.

Writing this blog has actually really helped to make sense of my thoughts and responses to this visit.  I will return to this blog for one more time in a day or two – a final recollection and summing up of this experience for me.

Posted in Birmingham, Cofton Park, Edinburgh, Hyde Park, London, St Mary's University College Twickenham, The Visit, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Hall | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments


Some pictures of the lovely young people at Hyde Park.

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We stand on holy ground

Pope Benedict XVI at Cofton Park

The blessings of this pilgrimage will be felt, I am sure, for some time to come. At Communion we sang the much loved Be Still for the Presence of the Lord, and the words ‘we stand on holy ground’ seemed most fitting. The mud of Crofton Park is now hallowed by the presence of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and by the spiritual presence of Blessed Henry Newman.

As I blog, here in the Media centre, there are photographic journalists all round me, uploading their photos. They are happy because they had a better view today than at the previous venues. The stage construction, made especially for the Beatification, proved very photogenic. The images I can see on the screen of the person sitting next to me, images of the Pope with Newman’s picture in the background, look very beautiful.

I have seen many signs of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the faithful people of God these past few days. I have many pilgrim tales I could tell, and maybe will tell, in the days to come. Facebook has been a revelation to me, how great a medium it has been to enable people to communicate, to share the latest stories, to witness their faith in this very modern way. I hope we will continue to exploit all the powers of the internet to spread the message of the Gospel of peace.

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Mary and Joseph

Wheelchairs at Crofton Park

I met Mary on the footpath this morning, as we were walking from the coach park to Cofton Park. Originally from Kerala, South India, she came today with her parish, St Michael’s in Shepton Mallet. They left there at 4am, and she had been up since 2am. She was pushing her husband, Joseph, in a wheelchair. Another pilgrim noticed her struggling a bit when the path sloped and offered to help her push. After a while I took a turn, and ended up staying with them right into the wheelchair enclosure.

The rain was falling steadily by now and Mary said it was a blessing. I wondered at first what she meant, but then I realised that in her homeland that is exactly what rain is, a blessing from God. Of course this rain was nothing like monsoon rain. In fact, Mary told me, it doesn’t actually rain at all in England. She also said that the more we suffered on this pilgrimage, the greater would be the blessings we received. She was praying for a miracle to help her husband to walk again.

As we drew nearer to the entrance a queue formed. The ground was undulating and muddy and the temporary metal paths put down to get us across the bumps were still rather difficult to negotiate with a wheechair. An angel appeared in the form of a Policewoman who patiently explained to me how to sort out the brakes on this wheelchair, which was of a kind unfamiliar to me. She also guided us through a grassy area, recommending going backwards in order to stop slipping. I thanked her, and said how good it was that she had received wheelchair training. She said it was not her training, but her Mum, who uses a wheelchair, that had given her those skills. God has a way of putting people in the right place at the right time.

I must admit to feeling a little peeved that even using the wheelchair entrance we had to queue. The walking pilgrims were on the wheelchair path as well, and there was no way we got priority. As a veteran of Lourdes I felt things could have been better organised, but Mary reminded me that we need to suffer a little for our faith.

Once I had said my goodbyes to Mary and Joseph in the wheelchair enclosure I tried to make my way to the Media centre. This was easier said than done, and the first dozen or so stewards who I asked didn’t have a clue there was a media centre. My spirits sank for a while, as one of my shoes had started to leak and I wondered if I would ever find the wretched media centre. Fortunately I heard the familiar sound of Jo Boyce and Mike Stanley singing Bread of Life and I started to feel better. Even more uplifting was Jo singing her setting of the Magnificat.

Eventually after one or two false starts and diversions, I found the entrance gate which I should have entered, and, to my amazement, was someone I had met on a pilgrimage to Iona, four years ago. At last there was someone who could tell me where the Media centre was. The VAMPs (Vatican Accredited Media Persons) had not yet arrived, so there was still plenty of space for me to set up the laptop and get to work with my story.

Suddenly I noticed that the sun had come out, the Pope had landed, the choir were singing, and a faint rainbow could be seen over Crofton Park. My view of the Popemobile was the best I’ve had so far.

Church of God, elect and glorious,

holy nation, chosen race;

called as God’s own special people,

royal priests and heirs of grace;

know the purpose of your calling,

show to all his mighty deeds;

tell of love which knows no limits,

grace which meets all human needs.

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Photos from a cold, wet and glorious morning in Cofton Park

Posted in Birmingham, Birmingham Oratory, Cofton Park, The Visit | 2 Comments

Holy Nation, Royal Priesthood

The holy nation outside Westminster Cathedral

The music this afternoon in Hyde Park has been uplifting. Everyone is excited, joyful and singing their hearts out are the choir, who led the singing during the procession of tha banners. This was an amazing spectacle. The young people from each Diocese led the procession, followed by representatives of Parishes from up and down the land. Seeing so many people, in a procession that just went on and on, was fantastic.

Several great songs were sung doing this time. Christ be our light, One bread one body, Shine Jesus shine, We are marching in the light of God and one, in particular that seemed to be exceptionally apt today, Out of darkness.

Out of darkness, God has called us,

claimed by Christ as God’s own people.

Holy nation, royal priesthood,

walking in God’s marv’lous light.

The crowd here are people who have come out of the darkness of the past into God’s light, brought there by the visit of Pope Benedict. We are now a holy nation, this visit has shown the people of this land what a nation we are, and now we must go forward and work to build upon this great opportunity to be the royal priesthood of believers.

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